East Helena volleyball team

The East Helena volleyball team is ready to make its varsity debut on Friday in Ronan. 

HELENA — The last three years have been a journey for the East Helena volleyball team and on Friday, it culminates with the program's first-ever varsity match.

The Vigilantes will make the trip to Ronan for an early-season tournament and they will face Corvallis, a Western A divisional opponent, in a match that's been three years in the making.

"We are so excited to finally kick off with the varsity," East Helena team captain Dru Lindsey said. "We have been waiting for three years for this. It's a really big opportunity and we hope we can come in and make a splash — that all the work we have put in will be worth it."

The Vigilantes have not only worked hard since their inaugural season, they have also faced their share of adversity.

"This junior class has been through so much," East Helena head coach Karla Layson said. "That first year, they didn't have a high school. We were practicing in an elementary school gym and trying to find a home, knowing that home is wherever you play. And then last year, like all teams, we were trying to deal with being a volleyball team during COVID times and through all that, they have really become such great leaders in so many ways."

East Helena will open its season on the road, but soon enough, they will be playing in front of fans in their own gymnasium. But even just this first varsity match will be a significant milestone.

"I was talking to our juniors earlier this week and our first parent meet was in a tiny classroom because we could all fit. And we still only have three classes of kids but it's finally here. We are playing varsity, we are in our school, in our gym. Fans can come watch and it's a lot of things coming to fruition."

Varsity sports coming to East Helena is bringing a wave of excitement throughout the community and the reach goes far beyond the players and coaches.

"I have three sisters and we have been playing volleyball for years but none of us at that varsity level yet," Teagan Wigen, another East Helena captain said. "One of my sisters is in high school right now on the JV team and it's just super exciting that we are the first varsity team, building this program for all those younger kids."

The excitement among the players for the opening game of varsity competition is palpable. But when it comes to hosting their first varsity match later this season on Sept. 9, it's off the charts.

"The idea that the whole community wants to come out and see you is so cool," Lindsey said. "Having packed stands, hopefully we will see that this season, we couldn't with spectator limits in the past. We are hoping that the energy will be really good, and we know our community will come through for us."

"This facility is so beautiful," Layson of the East Helena gymnasium. "It was just heartbreaking to not be able share it to its full capacity last fall. I know the girls are really excited to pack the stands and welcome East Helena to the school that they built. Our community is really supportive and we want to be able to pay that back."

In addition to her role as a team captain, Lindsey is also serving as the libero and Layson said, "She has owned the back row." 

Sophomore Dymon Root is another name to know and is someone the Vigilantes expect to contribute as a hitter. Wigen will see time at setter, as will Riley Stevenson and Kelcie Sergeant, who has also played on the back row and near the net. 

As far as goals for this season, both Lindsey and Wigen said they want to win some games, but also want to enjoy the experience.

"There is a lot more that goes into than you think," Wigen said. "We had so many fun bus trips last year where we were just singing and dancing. We definitely want to win, but there are also a lot of other things that make it memorable."

Layson's biggest objective is building to ensure long-term success.

"We really talk a lot about the culture," she said. "If you can build the right kind of culture and establish that, I feel like the wins will come. There's not a lot of numerical goals we are throwing out there. We are just focused on the culture and chemistry." 

East Helena opens its season Friday and Saturday at the Ronan Tip Off Tournament. The Vigilantes first home game is Sept. 9 vs Corvallis. 

Chris is the sports editor and lead preps reporter for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmpetey406

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