BOZEMAN — With how things started Friday night it appeared Manhattan Christian was well on its way to returning to the state championship match for a fourth consecutive season.
But, sometimes appearances can be deceiving.
The Eagles jumped out to a quick 10-point lead in the first set of a much-anticipated matchup against Bridger in the undefeated semifinal of the State C tournament. And while the Scouts rallied to make things close, Christian held on for a 25-19 win.
But Bridger won the next three sets, 25-22, 25-17, 25-17, to advance to the state championship match for the third time in four years. The Scouts lost to Christian in 2019, but won a rematch in 2020.
“We played pretty slow I thought,” Eagles head coach Hanna VanDyk said. “We had a lot of errors hitting and blocking-wise.”
Christian, which defeated Plentywood for the title a year ago, lost just its second match of the season and the first to a Class C opponent. The Eagles (23-2) will play Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale in the consolation game at 10 a.m. Saturday with the winner advancing to the championship at noon.
It’s a familiar path for Christian, which has lost the semifinal in each of the past three years, and then bounced back to win the consolation match en route to the finals.
“Manhattan Christian likes to lose this one,” VanDyk said. “We want to come back the hard way and win the next three. It’s going to be tough, a tough battle, we’re tired, but we’ve done it three times. So why not make it a fourth?”
Christian never trailed in the first set and jumped out to a 13-3 lead on the strength of an eight-point service run by Ava Bellach. While Bridger rallied to tie the score at 17, the Eagles capped the set on an 8-2 run.
The second set was tight throughout and featured nine ties before the Scouts took control on kill by Mya Goltz to break a 17-all tie.
But Christian struggled offensively in the third and fourth sets as hitters became tentative at the net. That was due in part to Bridger’s defensive effort and hitting errors, but also to misconstrued instructions from the coaching staff.
“We told them that they can’t just swing, you don’t want to just be a team that is predictable because they’ll pick that up,” said VanDyk. “We told them they had to mix it up and then we just got stuck with not mixing it up and just getting stuck in, ‘I was told to do this and am only going to do this.’ We just got stuck a little bit just getting frustrated when the swings didn’t go down, when the tip didn’t go down.”
Bridger (27-2) took advantage of the Eagles’ tentative play in the third and fourth sets. Dylann Pospisil and Goltz did much of the damage and combined for 30 of the Scouts’ 43 kills.
While the Eagles struggled offensively, VanDyk was pleased with effort the defensively, particularly the play of libero Alexis DeVries.
“Serve-receive was one of our best serve-receiving games. Didn’t shank a lot of passes,” VanDyk said. “Alexis carried our team defensively, she had 29 digs I think, so that was good.”
Katelyn Van Kirk led Christian with 13 kills and eight digs, while Miranda Wyatt and Bellach each had 10 kills. Wyatt also tallied six of the team’s 11 blocks.
“They worked hard,” said VanDyk. “I can’t say that they didn’t work hard because they gave a hundred percent. It just wasn’t our night.”
State C Tournament
Twin Bridges def. Circle 25-18, 25-16, 11-25, 25-19, loser-out.
Belt def. Roy-Winifred 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 23-25, 15-6, loser-out.
Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale def. Twin Bridges 23-25, 16-25, 25-21, 26-24, 15-8, loser-out.
Chinook def. Belt 24-26, 25-22, 25-16, 16-25, 15-4, loser-out.
Bridger def. Manhattan Christian 19-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-17, semifinal.
Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale def. Chinook 25-19, 21-25, 31-29, 25-22, fourth.
Bridger def. Manhattan Christian 19-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-17.
BRIDGER (27-2) – Kills: 43 (Dylann Pospisil 16, Mya Goltz 14). Digs: 71 (Cassidy Schwend 20, Pospilsil 15). Blocks: 11 (Nikki Roberts 6). Aces: 4 (n/a). Assists: 36 (C. Schwend 20, Abby Schwend 15).
MANHATTAN CHRISTIAN (23-2) – Kills: 40 (Katelyn Van Kirk 13, Ava Bellach 10, Miranda Wyatt 10). Digs: 62 (Alexis DeVries 29). Blocks: 11 (Wyatt 6). Aces: 3 (Bellach 2). Assists: 39 (Jadyn VanDyken 22, Jacie Burley 15).