Crosstown Competitions Brings Out the Best in Glacier, Flathead

Midway through the season, the Flathead and Glacier volleyball teams are battling for position in Western AA standings with postseason success in mind

By Dillon Tabish
Tiana Johnson blocks a ball against Glacier. Glacier defeated Flathead 20-25, 26-24, 25-20, 25-20 in the crosstown volleyball match on Sept. 29, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

When Christy Harkins reflects on the positive potential of the Glacier volleyball team, she looks back on a defeat.

It was earlier this season at the Great Falls Invitational, and the Wolfpack squared off against Billings Senior, the perennial powerhouse in Montana high school volleyball. Right away, instead of playing timidly, Glacier rolled with every hit and block that Billings offered, winning the first set in rather surprising fashion.

“Our passing was great. Our serving was great. Our attack was ideal,” Harkins said.

“Although we ended up losing the match, we still talk about that one. Their competitive level was great.”

In the same fashion, last week’s crosstown clash between Glacier and Flathead provided a shining example of how competitive both squads can be.

Glacier, following the dominating attack of senior hitter Nikki Krueger, defeated the Bravettes 20-25, 26-24, 25-20, 25-20 on Sept. 29. It was a nice bounce-back victory for the Pack after a painful defeat at the hands of top-ranked Missoula Sentinel two nights earlier. And it was a positive reminder for Flathead that they can compete with the fourth-ranked team in Montana, an honor Glacier held last week.

“Glacier played great and I really think Nikki (Krueger) played amazing,” Flathead head coach Courtney Baker said.

“For us, honestly that was a big moment of growth. We haven’t played like that and I was really proud of how our girls played (against Glacier).”

Last week’s crosstown match marked the season halfway point for both squads, which are hoping to return to the Class AA state tournament after missing out on postseason action a year ago.

Glacier (9-6 overall, 4-2 in Western AA) boasts four seniors who are leading the way, including Krueger, one of the state’s best players who moved to outside hitter this fall, and Abi Fiske, the team’s consistent co-captain and talented middle hitter. Senior Brietta Russell has excelled at libero and sophomore Kali Gulick, a 6-foot-2 middle hitter, has emerged as a breakout player. Senior Meagan Gillespie is also providing key leadership as a middle hitter.

“I honestly believe we’re still searching for our identity a little bit still. I know there’s a lot of growth left with these players,” Harkins said.

Harkins said it was a good sign to see her team respond after suffering a trashing at Missoula Sentinel (13-0, 6-0) by playing well against a competitive Flathead team.

“We were pretty whooped puppies after Tuesday. It was definitely a good bounce back to play well in a tough environment where you have to play hard,” Harkins said.

“It was a great (crosstown) match. The fact that Flathead played such excellent defense, it forced us to play every single point.”

On Flathead’s side, the team that graduated seven seniors from a year ago certainly showed its level of skill on defense against an exceptional Glacier attack.

While Krueger shined with 23 kills, it could have been many more against a lackluster defense. Instead, the Bravettes had 11 blocks, led by senior Tiana Johnson, who had seven. Johnson is capping off her impressive high school career with another standout season this fall. Johnson is one of only four seniors on the Flathead roster, along with outside hitters Kenzie Harvey and Allie Gagnon and hitter Sierra Siblerud. There’s also 13-year-old freshman Julia Burden, who is 5-11 and excelling at middle blocker.

“Games that are tight like (the Glacier match) are important and we’re still learning so much from it. (Crosstown) defensively for us was a huge test and we passed it,” Baker said.

Baker said her young team (2-11, 1-5) is focusing on improving its offensive attack as well as how to reach its potential in game time.

“The drills they’re beating in practice are great. Now we just need to do it in a game,” she said. “It’s a big learning curve but this year I’m having a blast really seeing the kids improve.”

The second and final crosstown match of the season is Oct. 17 at Glacier. The playoffs will occur Nov. 3 and the state tournament is Nov. 10-12 in Bozeman.

“I’m really excited to see how the rest of the season goes,” Baker said. “I think we will continue to surprise people.”

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