For four girls who have played volleyball together since middle school, been friends for as long or longer, and now are the senior captains for the Libby Lady Loggers volleyball team, their feelings about the state championship are direct and focused.
“We want to win it,” Shelby Barton said. “Definitely.”
Based on their undefeated season so far, the Libby Loggers volleyball team could very well get what they want. But Barton and her three fellow senior co-captains also understand that there is a long road before the state tournament, and looking too far ahead is dangerous.
“Last year we overlooked divisionals,” said Laice Dedrick, referring to the Loggers’ third-place finish in divisionals and failure to make state. “We don’t want to repeat that.”
Dedrick, who was all-state last year, said she reminds her teammates of the importance of taking the season one game at a time. With her three fellow seniors, Dedrick is confident that the Loggers’ experience will help them maintain that focus.
At a tournament in Hamilton, Libby beat Whitefish in the final to earn first place. Perhaps more important than the early season victory was the fact the Loggers beat Whitefish, which has won the last three state championships.
“We had a mental block that we weren’t sure we could beat them,” Megan Wedel said. “Then we did.”
With that confidence-building hurdle behind them, Dedrick, Wedel, Barton and Brooke Hageness, the four seniors, say the team fully understands what it’s capable of accomplishing. Having lost only one senior last year, the girls believe this year’s team is particularly tight-knit.
“We’re just cohesive,” Hageness said. “We’re definitely more of a team than last year.”
Last season, Libby entered the divisional tournament with their eyes on state. At divisionals, though, the Lady Loggers lost to Eureka and Whitefish, both of which they had beaten earlier in the season. Eureka and Whitefish went on to state, while Libby stayed behind.
“It was heartbreaking,” Head Coach Cindy Ostrem-Johnston said.
Losing in general is hard for Ostrem-Johnston – or Coach O.J. – said Dedrick.
“She’s very competitive,” Dedrick said. “Even during practice she’s that competitive.”
Dedrick has played varsity all four years of high school and knows what it takes to win a state championship. This team has all the components, she said, especially with four senior leaders. What’s special about this year, she said, is finally all four seniors are together. Throughout high school they have been spread out between the freshman, junior varsity and varsity ranks.
“Now we’re all together,” Dedrick said. “We’re excited.”
Usually the Loggers, like other teams, choose two captains. But this year, because the players felt all four seniors were equally qualified, they changed up tradition and voted all four as captains, a plan that Ostrem-Johnston admired.
Libby opened up its conference schedule with a road victory over Bigfork on Sept. 13. On top of the victory over Whitefish, the Loggers are undoubtedly off to a strong start, but Ostrem-Johnston said they have a long ways to go. Teams like Dillon, Fergus and of course Whitefish have their eyes set on the state championship too.
“We’re not where we want to be at the end of the season,” Ostrem-Johnston said.
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