Volleyball

Over the span of Saturday afternoon Belgrade’s volleyball team equaled its entire win total from a year ago.

The Panthers began the season with a pair of non-conference victories on the road. They defeated Missoula Big Sky in four sets, 25-22, 21-25, 25-6, 25-17, and then swept Missoula Hellgate 25-15, 25-21, 25-19.

With the wins, Belgrade is off to its first 2-0 start since 2018.

“We’re feeling like all of our hard work is really paying off. Everything that we’ve been talking about and visualizing and working on in practice is coming together,” second-year Panthers head coach Britt Murphy said. “It all definitely came together on the court today.”

Junior Tayler Thomas tallied a team-high 17 kills against Big Sky and then added 10 against Hellgate, while sophomore Josie Blazina added 12 kills against Big Sky and seven against Hellgate.

“Our offense was on fire. Between Tayler Thomas and Josie, they were putting the ball away. They’re doing a great job of swinging hard and fast,” said Murphy. “And the connection between our setters and our hitters was spot on. It’s what we’ve been spending a lot of time on. They were able to run a lot of quick combo plays and put the ball away.”

Murphy added that defensive specialists Tycelee Bowler and Arin Eaton were anchors in the back row, and Olivia Wegner led with five of the team’s 20 aces on the day.

“We had a lot of long rallies today and our defense was picking up a lot of balls that I didn’t think they were going to be able to get to and then they were there,” said Murphy. “Everything just fell into place. It was awesome.”

In addition to the strong play, Murphy noted the team walked onto the court expecting to win, which hasn’t always been the case over the past couple of years since Belgrade became a Class AA program.

“Our culture has completely shifted. The girls went out on to the floor really confident today,” said Murphy. “They knew that they had put in the work and they left their hearts on the floor and it paid off.”

Belgrade is back in action hosting a tournament Sept. 4.

“It (the wins) gives them a big boost of confidence that they needed,” said Murphy. “It’s easy to think you look great in practice, but until you put it altogether in a match, it’s hard to know where you stand. So we have a lot of ideas of areas that we need to focus on in the next couple of weeks, but they’re feeling very prepared and ready to get out there and get after it.”

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