At the beginning of the year, coach Jeff Mahler had one wish that he wasn’t sure would happen. He wanted his young team, there are only two seniors on the team, to make it to the state tournament so that they could experience the event and return in 2014 with more experience. As the season advanced and his young team kept doing better and better, his wish turned to a goal and then reality. After Saturday’s third place match, his team may still be young but they have the state tournament experience he hoped for, and a third place trophy to boot.
Mahler is quick to point out his team was only five points away from advancing ‘to the big show.’
Florence opened against Boulder, the No. 4 seed from the Southern B conference. Mahler said the atmosphere of the cavernous field house in Bozeman was almost more than the team could handle, but they did, and came away with the match in three sets.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Mahler.
Sabrina Hopcroft and Megan Byrne combined fro 39 of the 47 kills Florence knocked down. Kristyne Drozdz, who Mahler said had a fantastic tournament, had 41 digs and kept the ball alive for Florence many times.
Florence def. Boulder 25-21, 25-16, 26-24.
Kills – Florence 47 (Sabrina Hopcroft 21, Megan Byrne 18), Boulder 36 (Kerri Huso 14). Blocks – Florence 5 (Megan Kowalski 2.5), Boulder 1. Digs – Florence 109 (Kristyne Drozdz 41), Boulder 13 (Huso 12). Assists – Florence 46 (Rylie Hawkins 38), Boulder 29 (Mallory Herzog 14). Aces – Florence 7 (Josie McCann 3), Boulder 13 (Toni Canzona 7).
Florence then played the powerhouse team of Huntley Project. Huntley was a well-seasoned team that has won several state championships in the past few years and did, in fact, win the 2013 championship. Mahler said the match up was very lopsided with his team showing their age and inexperience. “Huntley, though, looked like a college team.”
Huntley took the match in three games.
Huntley Project def. Florence 25-18, 25-12, 25-14.
Kills – Project 44 (Rachael Buzanowski 14, Courtney Smith 12), Florence 21 (Megan Byrne 7, Sabrina Hopcroft 7). Blocks – Project 8 (C. Smith 2, Buzanowski 2), Florence 4 (Megan Kowalski 2). Digs – Project 44 (Cady Siemion 14, Brianna DeCock 14), Florence 61 (Kristyne Drozdz 22). Assists – Project 39 (Keera Stookey 37), Florence 18 (Rylie Hawkins 18). Aces – Proejct 4 (Tessa Hultgren 2), Florence 1 (Josie McCann).
But the loss to Huntley Project may have been to Florence’s advantage. They were then matched up against Deer Lodge, another conference foe. Mahler said they knew the match would be tough but they felt they knew the Wardens pretty well and could get a win. It was the sixth time the two teams had met this year, and it was the 6th time Florence came away with a win. Megan Kowalski had five blocks for the Lady Falcons.
Florence def. Deer Lodge, 25-13, 25-22, 25-20.
Kills – Deer Lodge 20 (Dani Walker 7, Michele Christnacht 7), Florence 29 (Sabrina Hopcroft 9). Blocks – Deer Lodge 6 (Christnacht 2), Florence 11 (Megan Kowalski 5). Digs – Deer Lodge 48 (3 tied with 10), Florence 78 (Kristyne Drozdz 24). Assists – Deer Lodge 17 (Bailee Senecal 17), Florence 27 (Rylie Hawkins 24). Aces – Deer Lodge 6 (Senecal 3), Florence 5 (Brittnie Heffner 2).
The victory over Deer Lodge gave the young team back their confidence said Mahler. “You could see the jitters were gone.”
They had to take on Choteau, the No. 2 team from the Northern B division. Mahler said the match was tough but he was proud of his team for not quitting. Florence lost the first set but came back to win the next three and the match. Hopcroft had 20 kills and setter Rylie Hawkins finally got her tempo down to where she finished with 40 assists.
Florence def. Choteau, 18-25, 25-12, 25-18, 15-25, 15-12.
Kills – Choteau 38 (Celie Salmond 13), Florence 43 (Sabrina Hopcroft 20). Blocks – Choteau 32 (Salmond 13), Florence 13 (Megan Kowalski 10.5). Digs – Choteau 89 (Madi Woith 28), Florence 124 (Kristyne Drozdz 50). Assists – Choteau 38 (Hallie Stringfellow 21), Florence 42 (Rylie Hawkins 40). Aces – Choteau 4 (Salmond 2, Woith 2), Florence 6 (Megan Byrne 2).
That win put Florence in the hunt for the championship. They were matched up against Forsyth for a chance to move on to play Huntley Project again. Forsyth came in as the No. 2 team from the south. They defeated Deer Lodge and Red Lodge before meeting up with Huntley Project in the undefeated match. Since the tournament format is a true double elimination format, the winning team would advance to the championship and the losing team would take home third place.
Mahler said the atmosphere on Saturday for the match was outstanding. There were the usual fans, a lot of younger players from Florence school made the trip over as well as former players and even the team from Corvallis. “It was special to have that kind of support, and the kids appreciated it.”
Forsyth came out and easily took the first two sets. Then the Florence team knuckled down and dug out a 23-25 win in game three and a 21-25 win for game four and sent the match to the fifth game. Florence lost, 15-9, and finished third.
Forsyth def. Florence, 25-15, 25-21, 23-25, 21-25, 15-9.
Kills – Florence 49 (Sabrina Hopcroft 17), Forsyth 58 (Kaylee Zard 18). Blocks – Florence 10 (Jessica Dufresne 4), Forsyth 12 (Mykaila Jensen 5). Digs – Florence 180 (Kristyne Drozdz 73), Forsyth 126 (Ruby Kallenbach 40). Assists – Florence 47 (Rylie Hawkins 42), Forsyth 55 (Kayla Fulton 50). Aces – Florence 8 (Megan Byrne 5), Forsyth 7 (Kallenbach 4).
Coach Mahler was very pleased with the weekend and felt his team learned a lot at this level. The experienced gained is invaluable for his plans for 2014. He concluded by saying “I loved that they were able to compete at this level.”