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WESTERN B DIVISIONAL VOLLEYBALL

Hawks win on home court

The Blue Hawks won a divisional volleyball tournament last weekend, but it wasn't easy. The Hawks ended up playing the Florence Falcons, who beat them in the regular season, three times in the tournament. They also lost one of their seniors to an injury. It wasn't easy, but they got the job done.

This was the first time the Blue Hawks had hosted a divisional volleyball tournament. Coach Sandra Kazmierczak said she and previous coach Jeff Wheeler could not ever remember such an event in Thompson Falls. They had hosted the district tournament several times, but nothing at this level.

When it was over, the Hawks held a division championship trophy on their home court. "It's the best feeling in the world," senior Abbi Lane said after the Hawks won.

The Blue Hawks used that energy of a home crowd and the familiarity of their home court to push their way to the championship. They opened the tournament against Loyola on Thursday. The first set was an easy 25-10 win for the Hawks. In the second, Loyola got off to a 4-2 lead before the Hawks came back and never stopped scoring, winning 25-18. Loyola stayed close in the third set, but the Hawks sealed the win with a 25-18 win. Senior Elli Pardee had 12 of the team's 24 set assists and Natalie Roberts garnered six of the team's 22 digs. Junior Avery Burgess led at the net, with three aces (seven total for the team), three blocks and nine kills. Senior Lane also had three blocks of the team's eight, and Scarlette Schwindt matched Burgess with nine kills

From there, Thompson Falls met Anaconda in the quarterfinal round Thursday afternoon. The Hawks came out with a strong 2-0 lead after two sets of 25-17 and 25-14 against the Anaconda Copperheads. The third set proved to be a bit tougher, and Anaconda kept up with the Hawks. Tied at 20, the Hawks scored and were up by two when Anaconda came back and pushed their lead to 23-22. The Hawks again tied the score at 23. With Cheyla Irvine up to serve, the Hawks scored another point and Anaconda called a timeout with the Hawks up 24-23 That didn't phase Thompson Falls, however, and Irvine served for another point and a Hawk 25-23 win, beating Anaconda in three straight sets.

Against the Copperheads, Pardee again led the Hawks with 12 of their 20 set assists, Schwindt led the team with seven digs and 11 kills, Lane contributed two blocks and four aces and DanniJo Van Huss added two blocks to the win as the team prepared to meet Florence in the semifinal match.

The Hawks got off to a slow start in the first set against Florence Friday evening, but rallied to tie the score at 11 before taking the lead. The Hawks were up 20-15 when the Falcons took their second time out of the set and the Hawks won 25-18 to take a 1-0 lead.

Thompson Falls was stronger in the second set, starting with a 4-1 lead before Florence caught up. The teams went back and forth in scoring before the Hawks secured the second set win at 25-23. The third set presented some fantastic volleys between the teams as Florence had an early 5-0 lead. The Hawks were able to tie the score until the Falcons went ahead 18-16. At that point, Florence took off and won the match 27-25. The Falcons dominated the fourth set, capitalizing on Blue Hawk errors and winning 25-21. Schwindt scored big for the Hawks last in the game as she smashed the ball through a Falcons triple block. Pardee went down in the fourth set after a Florence player landed on her ankle. She had to be carried off the court and received medical attention while the Hawks went to a fifth set with Florence.

"We work all season on developing mental toughness and learning how to fight through adversity," Kazmierczak stated. "It showed this week when one of our top players went down with an injury and the subs didn't miss a beat."

The Blue Hawks kicked off that fifth set with momentum and a 7-2 lead before Florence was able to gain some ground and eventually tie the set at 13. The Hawks weren't going to let their senior captain Pardee down, however, and pulled away with a 15-13 win. Pardee and Schwindt each had 18 set assists in the semifinal match with Florence. Irvine contributed eight to the team's 32 digs, Lane had seven blocks and four aces, and Schwindt and Burgess slammed 13 and 10 kills, respectively.

"When Elli went down we were on edge," said Van Huss, a senior. "But people came off the bench and stepped up."

With Pardee out, other players stepped up and played new positions for the Hawks. Kazmierczak noted that while some of her players had never played certain positions in games, they practiced those positions. She added that every player knows how to set and can step in when needed.

The win against Florence secured a place at state for the Hawks as they waited to see who would win their way back to the championship match. The Hawks would meet Florence not once, but twice in championship matches, as the tournament was a double-elimination format. In the first championship match, Florence was fresh off a win over Anaconda. They didn't show any signs of slowing down as they took the Hawks five sets and came away with the win, forcing a second championship duel. Florence won the first two matches 25-18 and 25-18 before the Hawks came back with two wins of 25-23 and 25-11. In the fifth set, the Hawks were up 9-7 before the teams tied it up at 9, 10 and 11 points. Florence ended up winning 15-12 and the teams took a 30-minute break before meeting on the court once again. In the first championship match, Schwindt had three aces and 32 of the team's 36 set assists, Irvine racked up 10 digs, junior Natalie Roberts led the team with 12 kills, Irvine had three aces and Lane had five blocks.

"Florence is a good program," Kazmiercak stated. "By this point in the season you know a little more about other teams. They were all very competitive in this tournament."

In the final matchup of the tournament, the Falcons had played 10 straight sets and the Hawks five. The Hawks were determined to win on their home court. They had proven earlier in the tournament that they could beat the Falcons and they stepped on the court with renewed energy and determination. The Hawks secured their place on top of the division in three straight sets, beating the Falcons 25-19, 25-16, 25-21. In that final match, Schwindt again led the Hawks with 29 set assists, Burgess added four aces and eight kills, Van Huss had eight kills and Roberts 10, Lane led with two of the team's five blocks and Irvine had 12 digs.

Senior McKenzie Robins said the Hawks "knew what we had to do" before the second championship and changed their strategy just the slightest. It worked, and Thompson Falls beat Florence in three straight sets, 25-19, 25-16, 25-21. The final set wasn't all Hawks, as Florence came out to a 14-9 lead. The teams then ended up being tied at 17 before the Hawks took off and secured the title.

The Hawks now head to the state tournament for the second straight year. Pardee said Saturday that nothing is going to keep her from playing at state. She said after receiving medical care, it was determined her ankle was sprained and she was instructed to keep ice on it and keep the ankle elevated. Last year, an injury to her hand forced Pardee to miss the state tournament, so she is determined to join her team on the court at state her senior year.

Hawk super fan Shawn McKahan, who was at Thompson Falls High School throughout the tournament, was honored to present the team with the championship trophy.

The Hawks are headed to Bozeman this week for the state volleyball tournament. Van Huss said she is excited to see new competition at the state level. The tournament will be held at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the Montana State University campus. Thompson Falls opens the tournament Thursday at noon against Broadwater County, the No. 3 seed from the southern division. Kazmierczak said Townsend brings a lot of height to the next, and the Hawks are adjusting for that. "This team has what it takes," Kazmierczak added. "We have to trust our game. The team is in good spirits."

Florence will play Glasgow at 4 p.m. on Thursday. Other teams in the Class B state tournament include Choteau, Jefferson, Huntley Project and Malta. The state bracket is available online at http://www.scledger.net.

"We're just having fun and we'll keep going," Robins stated.

 

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