If there was one thing upon which the town of Worden, Montana, could figuratively rebuild a Huntley Project High School consumed by arson in September 2008, it was high school volleyball.
During the decade since the 40-year-old structure burned, the Red Devils simply rewrote the MHSA record book, winning seven Class B State Championships in 10 years, including the program’s 11th-ever title – second-most in state history overall – last fall as they departed Montana State University’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse standing 34-0.
Combined with their 2017 work, Huntley Project – located about 20 miles northeast of Billings and with an enrollment of slightly more than 250 students – will go into 2019 riding a 67-match win streak.
Not a bad measuring stick against which the Bayfield High School Wolverines could gauge themselves.
Pit against at least part of the Treasure State powerhouse this past weekend in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado team camp, BHS closed out a strong team-building performance by prevailing in a best-of-three and earning the camp tournament’s Division 2 Gold Bracket crown.
“The team we ended up playing actually beat the team that beat us in the third round, so the kids came out on fire,” Bayfield coach Terene Foutz said. “In the first set they won 25-11. Then the other team bounced back, but we won 25-22.”
UNC volleyball head coach Lyndsey Oates’ notes showed that the Bears-hosted camp attracted 84 schools representing no fewer than six states, and 148 teams ultimately competed in four divisions with 44 teams crammed into Division 2.
“We chose a division that had small-school varsities and large-schools’ advanced JVs, kind of a combination,” said Foutz. “We played very well on Day 1, and on Day 2, we were challenged by a strong Pueblo West. We were down, (11-2) in the third set but won the set 16-14.
“We actually got second in our pool, but we were playing well enough that we were high enough seeded to get into Gold. By the time we won our way into the semifinals, we had to knock off the No. 1 seed, and we won 15-13 in the third set to get it.”
That resistance, even if not fully first-string, was still first-rate. Led by University of Nebraska-bound setter Annika Evans, now a senior, the Waverly, Nebraska, varsity advanced to the NSAA Class B State Tournament semis in 2018 and finished 27-8 overall.
The Vikings would split third place in Greeley with 3A Colorado Springs James Irwin Charter, while 4A Pueblo West and crews from 5A Grandview, 5A Regis Jesuit and 5A Las Cruces, New Mexico, divvied up fifth.
“This is a very hard-working group working to build respect for themselves and their team, and we have excitable players coming in,” said Foutz. “With our returners, we have Lana McKee, Melissa Roberts, Annie Fusco, Macee Schultz. That’s a good core group to build around, and that’s what we’re doing right now.
“I don’t think the kids went into that tournament understanding how much fuel they’d have in their tank in terms of competing. It’s a group that’s excitable and fights hard for their points.”
Under former Wolverine setter Suzie Rhodes, Bayfield’s current JV-level bunch also performed well at UNC and shared fifth in Division 3 with Union Colony, South High of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
“And while we had two teams ... in Greeley, we had two freshmen teams at Fort Lewis the same weekend. We have over 40 kids in the program right now,” Foutz stated. “But I’m not exactly sure about how we expect fall to go just yet. We’ll have tryouts, and we’ll build our rosters, and then I think I’ll have a clearer picture of who we’re going to be.”
Having already attended the Adams State University camp in Alamosa prior to traveling north to Weld County, Bayfield’s off-season grind will continue, with trips to this weekend’s CSU Ram Camp in Fort Collins and then to the Rio Rancho Jamboree.
“We should have a fairly-full roster when we go down to the Jamboree,” Foutz said. “Mavis (Edwards) will be back on the 31st of July, and we depart on the first (of August), so it’ll be tight.
“We’re hoping to get these kids about 35 to 40 matches before the fall season starts. I think we’re up-and-coming contenders, and we’re building as much experience as we can right now. I like us a lot.”
Additional camp champsElite Division (27 teams) – 5A Cherokee Trail (over 3A Sterling); Division 1 (56 teams) – 4A Santa Teresa, New Mexico, (over 3A Rawlins, Wyoming); Division 3 (21 teams) – Pueblo West (over 3A St. Mary’s).