Colleen McGibben, Rhayne Ransier, Nichole Hood, Rebecka Hood, Mary Conwell, Rebecca Lyons and Candace Dunagan have been playing volleyball for Hamilton for six years. Jean Schurman photo
For the past six years, six of the seven seniors on the Hamilton volleyball team have played on the court together. The seventh joined them their freshman year. Together, these seven young women have become the core of a very successful volleyball team. Mary Conwell, Candace Dunagan, Rebecka Hood, Nichole Hood, Rebecca Lyons, Colleen McGibben and Rhayne Ransier are the magnificent seven.
What makes this group notable? It could be their great work ethic. They put in hours this summer perfecting their passes, blocks, digs and serving. It could be tradition – Conwell, Lyons and the Hood twins all had older sisters who played for Hamilton. It might be their study habits. All are great students and make their classroom time work for them. But coach DeEtte Monson thinks it is their passion for the game.
“These girls love this game,” she said. “They have studied it and learned the game. We played together a lot this summer, even went to the Big Sky State Games.”
This is Monson’s sixth season as the head coach. She’s watched this group grow from a group of gangly, giggly teens into poised (if you don’t count the bus trips) young women. They are not only good athletes on the court and in other sports, but they are very good leaders and aware they are a team that has the eyes of the conference on them.
With only two conference losses and one non-conference loss, these Lady Broncs can be quite formidable on the court. None of them are very tall; Rebecka Hood, Conwell and Lyons are the tallest of the seniors at 5’9” each. But Rebecka Hood, Lyons and Ransier can block and lay down kills with precision. Conwell is the setter and with her soft hands and accurate passes, she sets up the offense. She also smacks down a few aces every game too. Nichole Hood is a threat at the net and in the back row too. Dunagan is an outside hitter and McGibben, at 5’, is a defensive specialist. All agree they are a team first and are quick to point out it takes all of the members, not just the seniors, to have results.
But when you sit down with these girls, it’s like sitting with a family. There are the shy ones, and the outgoing ones. The ones that will tell you anything and the ones yelling ‘shut up’. They have been through all of the growing pains that go with transitioning from junior high to becoming an adult with each other. They have the secrets they will carry with them until their class reunion years down the road. But they also have the stories they tell now.
Collectively they say they aren’t superstitious but they have their routines before a game. They listen to the same music each time. They refer to the music as ‘Mary’s Mix’ and apparently she (Conwell) has some pretty good moves too. They line up the same each game and even lead with the same foot when heading onto the court. They generally eat dinner together at least once if not more times each week, generally at one of their homes. There are the bus rides, but they collectively giggle and close their mouths when asked to elaborate on that part of their traditions. At least one time during the volleyball season, the team will participate in a scavenger hunt, a tradition Monson instituted when she first took over as head coach. In short, they are a unit, a team.
Rebecka and Nicole Hood, Lyons, and Dunagan are all threats on the softball field. Ransier spends her spring participating in track and field and Conwell is the 2011 Class A singles champion in tennis. Rebecka Hood, Lyons and Conwell also play basketball and up until last year, Nichole was right out there on the court too. She sustained a knee injury and didn’t play last year nor will she play this year. McGibben says she is a slacker for only playing volleyball but then the rest chime in and say she is there to support them on the fields and courts.
Support is essential to the Magnificent Seven. Their senior classmates rally around them at almost every game. Rebecka Hood adds, “Of course the fact we send out 100 text messages to get everyone there helps.”
With this type of enthusiasm from the players and their peers, the rest of the school is noticing. They all feel the younger players on the volleyball team are supporting them and understanding what it means to be a part of a program. Monson said the energy these seven players put into the game is amazing and the younger players are working just as hard to follow in their shoes.
Last year, the Lady Broncs missed going to the State Tournament by one game. It was a bitter disappointment to these seven who decided they were going to step their game up this year. They don’t want to settle for anything less than a trip to Bozeman.
They team hit a bump in the road on Thursday when they took on Stevensville. All agreed that the matches against Stevensville are some of their favorite games. With lots of fans from both schools on hand, the atmosphere is chaotic and loud and one never knows who is going to come out on top.
Stevensville defeated Hamilton in four close games. Colleen McGibben had six aces and Nichole Hood and Penny Gwynn (a sophomore) each had 10 kills. However, they couldn’t stop Brittney Chilcott of Stevensville. She had 14 kills and two blocks. Michaila Funkhouser added six aces for Stevensville and the Lady ‘Jackets took the win.
Stevensville def. Hamilton, 25-20, 22-25, 25-19, 25-22.
Kills – Hamilton 43 (Nichole Hood 10, Penny Gwynn 10), Stevensville 44 (Brittney Chilcott 14). Blocks – Hamilton 8 (Rebecca Lyons 5), Stevensville 4 (Chilcott 2). Digs – Hamilton 51 (Kennedy Chadwick 22), Stevensville 44 (Ashley Reid 16). Assists – Hamilton 37 (Mary Conwell 32), Stevensville 37 (Michaila Funkhouser 33). Aces – Hamilton 12 (Colleen McGibben 6), Stevensville 19 (Funkhouser 6).
The Lady Broncs rallied on Saturday to defeat Butte Central in three games.
Hamilton def. Butte Central 25-11, 25-11, 25-22
Kills – Butte Central 19 (Cooney), Hamilton 40 (Rebecka Hood 13). Blocks – Butte Central 4 (Ossello 2, Leary 2), Hamilton 4 (Penny Gwynn 2,Rebecca Lyons 20. Digs – Butte Central 43 (Neumann 15), Hamilton 36 (Kennedy Chadwick 14), Assists – Butte Central 17 (Norbeck 11), Hamilton 26 (Mary Conwell 23). Aces – Butte Central 4 (McLaughlin 2), Hamilton 10 (Chadwick 4).
Michaila Funkhouser set the ball, as Brittney Chilcott gets ready to make the kill in the match against Hamilton. Michael Howell photo