Cowgirls bounce back, win 3 straight to reach State Tourney

After a year absence, the Custer County District High School Cowgirl volleyball team will be returning to the Montana Class A State Tournament this weekend in Bozeman.

The Cowgirls suffered a shocking four-game loss to Hardin in their first match at the Eastern A Divisional Tournament in Glendive on Friday afternoon. But then they rattled off three straight wins to reach the championship match where they lost to Billings Central.

“We were super excited to get to the state tournament,” Cowgirl senior Shaylee Singleton said. “Going into the tournament number two doesn’t mean anything. Losing the first match off the bye gave us a mindset that we really have to play our game and come back strong to make it back to the championship.”

The Cowgirls go into the State A Tournament in Bozeman with a 17-16 record on the season. They will take on Columbia Falls at noon on Thursday at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the Montana State University campus.

The Cowgirls had a bye to start the Eastern A Divisional after finishing the Eastern A schedule 7-3. 

But the Cowgirls were rusty coming off the bye in their first match of the tournament against Hardin.

Hardin took control of the first set and led 20-13 at one point, before the Cowgirls rallied to cut the score to 20-19. Hardin responded with four points in the next five serves to reach game point, 24-20. But again, the Cowgirls answered with five straight points including kills from Shaylee Singleton, Kadie Hienle and Mariah Schell. Schell’s kill gave the Cowgirls their first lead since 4-3.

The teams traded points in the extra serves, but an ace from Hardin gave them a thrilling 30-28 win.

In the second set, the Cowgirls fell behind early but tied the game at 10 on a Jessie Beard kill. From there, the Cowgirls took control of the game and ran away with the 25-17 win.

Game three was never close, with Hardin building an early 13-4 lead and cruising to a 25-10 win. The fourth set was equally frustrating for the Cowgirls, with Hardin leading by as many as 10 and winning 25-17.

Singleton finished with 14 kills to lead the Cowgirls and Kadie Heinle had three blocks. Stevie Murphy led the team with 31 digs.

“I feel as our nerves may have kicked in and they already played, so that helped them,” Singleton said. “As a team, we started to get down on ourselves when they got a lead on us and we couldn’t get our heads up to pull out the win.”

Facing elimination, the Cowgirls took on Sidney on Friday evening. Sidney was one of just two Eastern A teams that had beat the Cowgirls in the regular season.

After shaking off the rust against Hardin, the Cowgirls rolled to a 25-20, 25-11, 25-20 sweep of Sidney.

Singleton again led the team in kills with 11. Murphy and Tori Swope each had 15 digs, Heinle and Mackenzie Helland each had two blocks and Swope served four aces. Catherine Nalewaja had 12 assists.

On Saturday morning, the Cowgirls continued to roll, sweeping a surprising Laurel team. Going into the final week of the regular season, Laurel had not won a conference game but beat Glendive for their lone conference win. In the tournament, Laurel beat Sidney then eliminated Glendive to reach their match with the Cowgirls.

The Cowgirls were hardly tested in the first set, winning 25-9. Laurel led for most of the second set, with the Cowgirls getting their first lead at 20-19 and then cruising to the 25-20 win. In the deciding third set, the Cowgirls never trailed and ran away with the 25-16 win.

“It was nice to get those sweeps,” Singleton said. “We knew it could have been the end for us seven seniors and we had to show the fans and everyone that we really wanted it. So we played to our best potential.”

After the sweeps of Sidney and Laurel, Hardin stood in the Cowgirls way to reach the state tournament.

The teams played close in the first set, but the Cowgirls took the lead at 11-10 and never let it go. They led by as many as six and held on for a 25-21 win. Heinle had a big block to seal the victory.

In the second set, the Lady Bulldogs grabbed the momentum and blew the Cowgirls away. They led 18-5 and cruised to a 25-14 win.

With the match knotted at one, the Cowgirls regrouped and played much better in the third set. There were six ties and three lead changes, with the Cowgirls grabbing the lead 14-13 and pulling away for a 25-18 win.

The fourth set ended up being the deciding set, but it didn’t come easily for the Cowgirls.

Neither team led by more than three points and there were 13 ties and nine lead changes.

The Cowgirls led 22-19 late in the match, but Hardin rallied to tie the score at 22 and then took a 23-22 lead. Beth Sutter tied the score at 23 with a kill, but Hardin answered with a kill of their own to bring up game point at 24-23.

Two straight hitting errors by the Lady Bulldogs gave the Cowgirls match-point and they wasted no time, ending the match on a Beard kill.

“We knew that we would face them again and that we would show them why we were really there and not to go home,” Singleton said. “So it felt nice to get a win against them and be able to go to state. The seniors and the rest of the girls are extremely excited to be able to go to Bozeman and bring home some hardware.”

In the championship match, the Cowgirls faced a Billings Central team that went undefeated in the regular season and had not lost a set in the tournament.

The Cowgirls put up a fight, especially in the first two sets, but Central won with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-11 sweep.

“We were all pretty tired,” Singleton said. “It was a long day. But we tried our best to make Central not think they had it in the bag. I felt we gave them competition for a good championship match. Central is a very good team. Hopefully both of us are representing the Eastern A in the championship.”

Hardin def. Miles City

30-28, 17-25, 25-10, 25-17

Miles City -- Kills: 40 (Shaylee Singleton 14). Blocks: 4 (Kadie Heinle 3). Aces: 5. Digs: 138 (Stevie Murphy 31). Assists: 30 (Catherine Nalewaja 16).

Hardin -- Kills: 38 (Hannah Ware 16). Blocks: 6 (Anna Old Crow 2). Aces: 6 (Ware 2, Old Crow 2). Digs: 123 (Ware 30). Assists: 36 (Ware 16).

Miles City def. Sidney

25-20, 25-11, 25-20.

Sidney -- Aces: 4 (four with 1). Kills: 31 (Lexi Prevost 14). Blocks: 2 (Prevost, Ciara Sinks). Digs: 67 (Prevost 17). Assists: 27 (Hailey Steinbeisser 11, Prevost 11).

Miles City -- Aces: 10 (Tori Swope 4). Kills: 23 (Shaylee Singleton 11). Blocks: 5 (Kadie Heinle 2, Mackenzie Helland 2). Digs: 56 (Stevie Murphy 15, Swope 15). Assists: 20 (Catherine Nalewaja 12).

Miles City def. Laurel

25-9, 25-10, 25-16

Miles City -- Kills: 25 (Tori Swope 6). Blocks: 3 (Kadie Heinle 3). Aces: 14 (Shaylee Singleton 5). Digs: 64 (Stevie Murphy 20). Assists: 22 (Catherine Nalewaja 10).

Laurel -- Kills: 22 (Delayna Christenson 10). Blocks: 1 (Abbie Lohof). Aces: 4 (Kaylee Davis 3). Digs: 70 (Krishell Herden 14). Assists: 21 (Maygan McFate 14).

Billings Central def. Miles City, championship

25-20, 25-20, 25-11

Billings Central -- Aces: 9 (Erika Kuehns 5). Kills: 34 (Ellie Hanser 12). Blocks: 9 (Hanser 4). Digs: 73 (Miranda Clarin 24). Assists: 34 (Baylee Hadley 33). 

Miles City -- Aces: 5 (Mariah Schell 3). Kills: 21 (Shaylee Singleton 7). Blocks: 4 (Kadie Heinle 4). DIgs: 46 (Singleton 25). Assist: 21 (Makena Ellingson 10).