After graduating 11 seniors last year, the last thing a lot of people thought early in the season was that the Lady Falcons of Florence would be headed back to the state tournament this year. Well, everyone but head coach Jeff Mahler. His goal was to get his young team back to state so they could experience the venue and be prepared for the next couple of years. But don’t count out this year yet.
Florence’s only loss was from Class A Hamilton. Most of their matches, this young team hasn’t even had to play more than three games. They may be young but this team doesn’t play like a young team. They are poised, businesslike and ready for what comes their way.
Part of their composure may be because of the way they have been taught to approach each game. Mahler encourages the team to fight of every point and only concentrate on winning the next point, not the game.
“We try to keep it simple, we’re talking about every next point. (We’re) not going to make it bigger than that. You fight for every point. We only care about the next one and when you fight for enough, you win.”
While the Lady Falcons appeared to cruise through the tournament, it was not without some concerns. The team has been playing with some injuries for most of the season. Going into the tournament, outside hitter Megan Byrne was nursing a sore leg as was setter Rylie Hawkins. Both had played all three days but during the championship match Saturday afternoon, first Byrne went out with an injured hand and then Hawkins left the match due to re-aggravating a leg injury.
“This was the first game she (Hawkins) hadn’t finished,” said Mahler.
Josie McCann stepped in for the injured setter and hardly missed a beat in setting the ball for the Lady Falcons in the final game of the championship match.
“She stepped in and stepped up,” said Mahler. “Those were big shoes to fill. I’m proud of her to do that. Same with Tess (Porch) too, when you go in like that, it’s hard, mentally, physically, it’s hard to do.”
Porch has stepped in for Byrne for the last few matches and has been able to carry that position with blocks and kills. Porch is one of two seniors on the team. Hannah Bing Sax is the other. Bing Sax was thrilled that her team claimed the championship and is headed back to Bozeman to the state tournament.
“They’ve come so far,” she said of her young teammates. “We were all, not really worried, but questioning how the season was going to go and they went farther than any of my expectations.”
Mahler said he has always talked to his team about having to overcome obstacles and feels that his team has done their best. He went on to say his Lady Falcons are a true team, from the ones that don’t get to play much to the ones that play all the time; they are always encouraging each other and working hard in every capacity.
“Like we always say, it’s easy to win when everything is going good, let’s see how we do it when stuff hits the fan.”
Florence played a near perfect match against Deer Lodge for the Western B championship. They didn’t have a service error in the first two games and dominated at the net with freshman Megan Kowalski having five of the team’s 10 blocks.
Florence def. Deer Lodge, 25-13, 25-16, 25-17.
Kills – Florence 30 (Sabrina Hopcroft 9), D. Lodge 21 (Walker 7). Blocks – Florence 10 (Megan Kowalski 5), D. Lodge 1 (Therriault). Digs – Florence 78 (Kristyne Drozdz 31), D. Lodge 43 (Thomas 11). Assists – Florence 28 (Rylie Hawkins 19), D. Lodge 22 (Senecal 22). Aces – Florence 6 (Hopcroft 2), D. Lodge 4 (Thomas 2).
The Lady Falcons came out tough and played their game against an under manned team from Troy in their opening game of the tournament. Although Troy made a couple of runs at Florence, the Lady Falcons easily controlled the tempo of the match and won in three games.
Florence def. Troy, 25-14, 25-21, 25-8.
Kills – Troy 10 (Lundin 4, K. Lundin 4), Florence 44 (Hopcroft 23). Blocks – Troy 3 (Lundin 2), Florence 7 (Hopcroft 2, Kowalski 2). Digs – Troy 30 (Brown 8), Florence 46 (Drozdz 20). Assists – Troy 10 (Garrison 10), Florence 39 (Hawkins 31). Aces – Troy 5 (Hight 2), Florence 9 (3 tied with 2).
In their second game of the day, Florence defeated rival Loyola in three games. With Megan Byrne back on the front row after an injury, the Lady Falcons knocked down 25 kills including 11 by Sabrina Hopcroft and four blocks.
Florence def. Loyola, 25-20, 25-11, 25-13.
Kills – Loyola 17 (Tiede 10), Florence 25 (Hopcroft 11). Blocks – Loyola 2 (Tiede 1, Eppard 1), Florence 4 (Megan Byrne 1.5). Digs – Loyola 15 (Round 8), Florence 68 (Drozdz 37). Assists – Loyola 14 (Crippen 13), Florence 25 (Hawkins 23). Aces – Loyola 2 (Round 1, Crippen 1), Florence 14 (Hopcroft 5).
Florence met up against Deer Lodge in the semi finals. Although the Deer Lodge team is made up of some very talented and athletic individuals, they couldn’t find an answer for the Lady Falcons. Florence won in three games. Kowalski had 11 kills and Bing Sax had two aces.
Florence def. Deer Lodge, 25-12, 25-19, 25-17.
Kills – Deer Lodge 16 (Walker 6), Florence 33 (Kowalski 11). Blocks – Deer Lodge 2 (Senecal 2), Florence 12 (Kowalski 3.5). Digs – Deer Lodge 37 (Thomas 13), Florence 72 (Drozdz 29). Assists – Deer Lodge 16 (Senecal 15), Florence 29 (Hawkins 28). Aces – Deer Lodge 6 (
Christnacht 3), Florence 6 (Hannah Bing Sax 2).
“I like seeing kids rise to the challenge,” concluded Mahler. “That’s volleyball.”
Florence will open the Class B tournament at 10am on Thursday in Bozeman against Boulder, the No. 4 team from the south.