Rallying from a two-game deficit in the Western AA Divisional Championships on Nov. 4, the Glacier Wolfpack beat Helena High to earn the No. 1 seed heading into the Class AA state volleyball championships. With the return of head coach Christy Harkins, who had to take a season off after retiring from her teaching career, the senior-heavy Wolfpack (20-8) has put together one of the best seasons in program history and is aiming to bring home a trophy this week.
“There were some amazing practices in September where I just got chills,” Harkins said. “I really started to think these girls could win the division. They were doing it every day in practice — we had JV kids able to push our varsity kids to their best and I wasn’t afraid to put anyone on the floor.”
During the regular season, the Wolfpack only lost a single conference game to Helena, which was avenged in the divisional championships. Glacier won the last two sets to beat the Bengals, 25-22, 16-25, 18-25, 25-23, 15-12.
It was Glacier’s first Western AA Divisional title since the state adopted the format for Class AA in 2021. Prior to 2021, play-in games determined the final qualifiers for the state tournament. Glacier did not qualify for state last year.
En route to the divisional title, Glacier put away Flathead in a crosstown matchup that went to five sets.
“Any crosstown situation is nerve wracking, but the game was really good for us. They really pushed us and it’s good to practice being under that kind of pressure,” Harkins said. “After that game we knew we were going to state and the pressure let off a bit, letting us go play that championship game relaxed. Putting together three good days of play at an intense tournament like that is a pretty big deal.”
Glacier hasn’t earned the top seed in a decade, but the team finished in third place in 2016, the highest in program history.
This year, with seven seniors on the team, the goal is to at least match that finish.
“Throughout the season I think we’ve been collecting the goals we’ve set and making sure we keep our focus on achieving the next one and the next one,” senior Maddie Davis said. “We won the division, which was a big goal, and that tournament specifically was a great opportunity for us to push ourselves and really step up and show how we work as a team.”
The divisional success cemented the team’s abilities in the minds of all the players.
“I was just really impressed with how we pushed through having five-set matches in the semifinals and finals. Coming back to beat a really good Helena team after losing to them earlier in the season was really huge for us,” senior Haven Speer said.
Speer said that the team’s synergy this year is higher than she’s ever experienced on the court.
“Even if we’re playing a team that might be more talented than us, we just do a great job at coming together and we’ve got this gritty aspect to our team dynamic that I’ve been super impressed with,” she said.
Harkins believes the team’s cohesion and gritty playing style is tied directly to the seniors on the court, each with their own merits. There’s Speer, who currently leads the state in attack efficiency and adds another attacker to the Pack’s 5-1 offense; Sarah Downs, one of the squad’s most versatile players, who has stepped up on the back row and as a defensive player this season; Ella Farrell, an all-state softball pitcher in the spring, brings a cool head to high-pressure situations.
“I think people can undervalue senior leadership sometimes, but it makes a huge difference. These seniors have enough life experience and have played long enough to understand what’s important to them and how to prioritize it,” Harkins said. “It really matters to them because it’s their last year. The stakes are high, and the more of those kids you have on the floor, the more potential you have to do something special.”
The all-class state tournament begins Nov. 9 at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman. The Wolfpack plays their opening match against the Eastern AA No. 4 Bozeman (20-8) at 10 a.m.
Holding a No. 1 seed gives Glacier the best path through the championship bracket, beginning on day one with the first match of the tournament. A first round win will see the Wolfpack play in the quarterfinals on Thursday evening, while a loss will send the team into a series of loser-out matches on Friday.
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