AA: Helena Capital
A: Billings Central
B: Huntley Project
Calling all challengers: Sanctioned volleyball began in 1984 with two classes: AA-A and B-C. Since becoming a four-classification sport in 1987, the sport has never seen all four champions repeat. We came close in 2011 when Helena, Lewistown and Huntley Project retained their titles, and in 2013 when Billings Senior, Huntley Project and Gardiner repeated. Could this be the year? Of the four defending champions, only Billings Central lost the majority of its roster — 7 of 12 players — to graduation. Still, the Rams return four players with starting experience. Capital returns five starters, Project returns eight letterwinners and three all-staters, and Belt graduated only two players and returns six with starting experience. Incidentally, there have been three seasons when none of the four champs have repeated: 1993, 2009 and 2015.
On the move: Remember this is the year Butte returns to the Western AA from the Eastern AA, and Belgrade moves up from the Central A to the Eastern AA. The Panthers’ switch leaves a considerable void in Class A. Since 2014, Belgrade has one Class A title (2014), one third-place finish (2016) and consecutive runner-up finishes (2017-18), so it’ll be interesting to see the impact the Panthers' absence will have on Class A and what their entrance will mean in Class AA.
An even dozen: If Project does win another Class B title this season, it would be the 12th overall for the Red Devils and coach Iona Stookey, all since 2003. A 12th title would also move Stookey into a tie with former Billings Senior coach Jeff Carroll for most state volleyball titles won. Carroll’s Broncs won a dozen Class AA championships starting in 1991 and ending in 2012. He retired from coaching following the 2016 season when the Broncs took second to Missoula Sentinel. Stookey’s 11th championship, won last season, moved her into second place ahead of Bridger’s Wayne Moorman, who won 10 Class C titles. Moorman retired after last season when the Scouts finished runner-up to Belt.