Butte Central poses with their third-place divisional trophy after securing a state playoff appearance for the first time since 2015.

BUTTE — A loss on Saturday could not bring down the spirits of Butte Central.

Why would it? The Maroons clinched a state playoff visit for the first time since 2015, and a close 3-1 match loss to Columbia Falls locked in Central as the No. 3 seed from Western A.

Head coach Becky Hancock was thrilled that her team put together a strong performance at the most opportune time of the season. The Maroons beat Whitefish and Polson, but two losses to Columbia Falls saw Central fall short of the Western divisional championship game.

“We brought it at the divisional tournament,” Hancock said. “We put together a great weekend of volleyball and they had the heart, and they wanted it. It was a great accomplishment and we’re looking forward to playing again.”

In Saturday’s match against Columbia Falls, the Maroons were led by senior Cassidy Strizic, who paced her team in both kills and aces, totaling 11 and three respectively.

Other Central standouts included Maci Reopelle, who’s 24 digs and 17 assists led the team in both categories. Avery Kelly led the Maroons in blocks, racking up four solo blocks and one assisted.

Hancock expressed her pleasure with her team’s execution during crunchtime, but also that the years of hard work with this group has paid off with the team earning the trip to Bozeman this week.

“It was 2015 was the last time we’ve been to the state tournament,” Hancock said. “After we lost that group from 2015, we had to regroup in a way. This is a group that I’ve been building with for 2-3 years, and here we are. They’ve come a long way over the past couple years.”

While leaders like Reopelle and Strizic continued to excel this past weekend, Hancock also made a point to praise the way that her team has bonded and developed a rapport over the course of the year.

“Team chemistry was huge,” Hancock said. “They get along on and off the court and they had the chemistry that I’ve looked for, the kind that makes a team successful. It gives them the extra adrenaline to get things done and compete. I saw a lot of it this weekend, it showed up right when it needed to.”

However, the accomplishment only means that a new door opens up for the Maroons, and that starts with the No. 2 seed from the East, Glendive.

Central and Glendive will begin play in Bozeman on Thursday at 2 p.m.

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