By DIXIE KNUTSON The Daily Inter Lake
Nate Chute/Daily Inter Lake: Polson’s Sallie Sams spikes the ball over the net against Whitefish in Northwestern A Divisional Volleyball Championship in Columbia Falls on Saturday afternoon.
COLUMBIA FALLS – Never discouraged. Never worried. Never concerned.
Trailing Whitefish by two sets in the championship match of the Northwestern A Divisional volleyball tournament, some coaches might have broken a sweat.
But Polson’s Jan Toth never batted an eye.
“I turned to my assistant coaches, even after set two and said ‘I’m not worried. We have the next three games, no problem,'” she said.
And they did.
The Polson Pirates fought off a hard-fighting Whitefish Bulldog team in five sets – 20-25, 18-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-7 to finally claim that elusive Northwestern A Divisional championship.
“It feels awesome. There are no words. I’ve wanted it so bad for my girls, not just for my seniors, for my whole team. They put in a lot of time,” Toth said.
“This all wraps up an amazing four years with these guys. But now our journey just begins,” she said.
The Pirates will take a little time to enjoy, but then “we’re going to open the door for state. We were fourth last year. We know we can be in that championship with what we have. But we mentally have to be there and prepare,” she said.
“Whitefish gave us everything we could handle. We come out really flat and you can’t come out flat against a team that has so much success behind them,” Toth said.
“That’s a team with so much character on the floor, so much heart, so much desire … so when you come out flat, you are in trouble.
“And what happened … my team really depends on Breanne Kelley to be their go-to and she has been fighting sickness. That girl has been hitting 50 balls a match. At some point, you are going to slow down.”
Kelley finished with night with 12 kills, but she struggled a bit in the early sets.
“We started to panic,” Toth said.
So the Pirates changed their offensive view.
“We started strategically hitting and not powering it. They were picking up our power game with their block,” the coach said.
“They are a great ballclub,” Whitefish coach Jackie Fuller said.
“They started coming after us in set four and set five – and we got tired. Maybe we need a little more conditioning in this program,” she laughed.
The Bulldogs showed they are in great shape – they played 12 sets of volleyball on Saturday. They started with a four-set victory over Columbia Falls, then rode the momentum from a sweep of Ronan into the championship.
“I thought we ran a great offense, I thought we did some great things blocking,” Fuller said.
“But give Polson all the credit in the world. They have got a ton of talent and Jan does a super job with that group.
“We fought. Twelve sets today and I really don’t think we ever looked to doubt ourselves,” Fuller said.
Down 12-7 in the fifth set “I’ve still got a girl diving and doing whatever she can to get that ball up, because that’s just our philosophy. We’ll fight to the end,” Fuller said.
“We kept believing the whole time and I’m really proud of that. They defended to the end, the energy was there and it’s going to carry us,” she said.
“I’m really proud of our kids. I told them this morning … if there’s any group that worked so hard and has been through so many ups and downs. They were around the last two years when things weren’t going the way they used to go in Whitefish volleyball.
“They made a commitment to turn that around,” she said.
The Pirates open the state tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday against Laurel, the No. 2 team from the Eastern A. Whitefish will take on Eastern A No. 1 – defending state champion Billings Central, at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Polson def. Whitefish (championship) 20-25, 18-25, 25-22, 25-16,15-7
Kills – Whitefish 41 (M. Tveidt 12, Olivia Nagler 7), Polson 50 (Sallie Sams 16, Breanne Kelley 12); Assists – Whitefish 28 (Nagler 19), Polson 39 (Kayla Duford 37); Blocks – Whitefish 13 (Brooke Silliker 5, Nagler 4), Polson 15 (Kelley 5, Riley Kenney 4); Digs – Whitefish 87 (Baylee Tveidt 16, Nagler 17), Polson 69 (Kendyall Rochin 21, Kelley 15); Aces – Whitefish 6 (Lindsey Viscomi 2, McFadden 2), Polson 10 (Macall Banner 4).