STATE VB: Glacier lets huge lead slip away in season-ending loss to Billings West

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BOZEMAN — The match was all but over.

Glacier rolled through the first two sets against Billings West and jumped out to a commanding 7-0 lead in the third game.

Seemingly nothing went right for the Wolfpack from that point on.

The Golden Bears coasted through the third and fourth games and outlasted Glacier in the deciding fifth set to send the stunned Wolfpack home with a 14-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-13, 15-11 defeat on Friday in the Class AA state volleyball tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

“We’re a team that lacks confidence, and we clearly showed that,” Glacier coach Christy Harkins said. “We couldn’t battle. They started to put a little pressure on us — a little bit — and we started to make a few mistakes and just let it snowball. That’s kind of been us all year.”

Glacier appeared invincible in the first two sets.

Harkins’ squad played mostly clean volleyball in the beginning, a welcome sight after an error-filled loss to Billings Senior in Thursday’s opening round, and dominated West with a strong service game and potent offensive attack led by Aubrie Rademacher (14 kills) and McKenna Johnson (5 aces).

“We came out confidently, and we played well,” Harkins said. “The first couple of things went our way, so we had confidence.”

The Wolfpack’s solid play spilled over into the third set, as it raced out to an early lead and appeared destined to sweep and keep its season alive.

In the blink of an eye, everything changed.

After Glacier took its 7-0 lead in the third, West scored 13 of the next 17 points to grab the lead.

“For me, at 11-11 in Game 3, I knew we were in trouble if we couldn’t find some positivity out there,” Harkins said. “You could see it turn when a couple of things didn’t go our way. We started missing a few serves, missing a few digs, got blocked in Game 3. We panicked.”

The Golden Bears cruised through the remainder of the third with little resistance and met even less in the fourth, breezing to a 25-13 win to force a final set to 15.

Throughout the third and fourth games, Harkins called timeout after timeout in an attempt to calm her team and quell West’s momentum. None of them accomplished either objective.

“Until you thrive in a pressure situation, if you’re a team that struggles in a pressure situation, you don’t know how to get through it until you have some success through it,” Harkins said. “We never quite had success in those stressful situations (this season). Every time we were put under pressure, we kind of buckled, and we never battled through that.”

Glacier battled back to put up a fight in the fifth set and even held leads at several points throughout the back-and-forth game.

But after the teams were deadlocked at eight points apiece, West closed on a 7-3 run to snatch the set and steal a match that once seemed out of reach.

Though the heartbreaking ending was far from what she and her team envisioned, Harkins reflected fondly on the season, one that saw Glacier make its seventh appearance in the past eight years at the state tournament.

“We have great kids at Glacier High School,” she said. “They’re good citizens. They’re good students. They do the right thing. They’re good people. It’s always fun to surround yourself with good people, so I appreciate that from them.”

Billings West def. Glacier

14-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-13, 15-11

Kills — Glacier 48 (Aubrie Rademacher 14), Billings West 42 (Catherine Follett 11). Blocks — Glacier 15 (Rademacher 8), Billings West 14 (Shauna Stene 7). Digs — Glacier 56 (McKenna Johnson 19), Billings West 85 (Kinzee Koch 24). Assists — Glacier 44 (Ashley Montini 42), Billings West 35 (Taylor Larsen 24). Aces — Glacier 10 (Johnson 5), Billings West 4 (Koch 2).

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