HELENA — It's always a big deal when Helena Capital and Helena High meet on the volleyball court, but this week, the Bengals hope to stand in the way of the Bruins making history.
That's because Capital will come into the Jungle on Thursday night riding a 63-match winning streak, which leaves the two-time defending Class AA state champions just two wins shy of tying the record.
And if all goes to plan, the Bruins could own the record within a week. Following the match against Helena on Thursday, CHS will host Kalispell Flathead on Friday, as well as being home next Tuesday.
"We know where we are at and that it's within reach," Capital head coach Rebecca Cleveland said. "But we choose to be focused on making the most of each day and each opportunity. I am so proud of these girls and their positive attitudes."
Yet, getting through that stretch and to 66 wins will be easier said than done and Helena High will likely provide the biggest challenge as the third-ranked Bengals, led by Liz Heuiser, Lauren Heuiser, Brooke Ark and a number of other veterans will attempt to upset top-ranked Capital.
"We are excited about the challenge," Helena head coach Lindsey Day said. "We are going in knowing that it's another opportunity for us to really grow and learn from whatever the outcome will be. But playing the best team in the state is a good opportunity for us and we are going to take advantage of it."
The Bruins are also looking forward to the rivalry rematch.
"We always look forward to crosstown," Cleveland said. "The pulse of our team is strong. We are ready to bring our best to the court, a blend of light hearted and lights out is what we'll strive for."
In the first crosstown match of the season, Capital swept thanks in large part to a dominating hitting performance from twin sisters Paige and Dani Bartsch, which helped the Bruins score 34 kills. CHS also allowed Helena High to get just 19 kills. Audrey Hofer, a former Gatorade Player of the Year along with Paige Bartsch, also made her presence felt with 28 assists and nine digs.
While the Bruins will certainly hope to control the net again, the Bengals are hoping to flip the script and ramp up their own attack.
"One of the biggest things is we need to play scrappier defense," Day said. "We have to be able to execute our offense. We have some weapons in the front row that we need to be able to utilize, so we have to get the ball to our setter and run our offense and we just need to mentality stay in it, even if we get in a funk and things aren't going our way."
While both the Bruins and Bengals are contenders in Class AA, their contest is also critical in the Western AA standings as Capital enters in first with an 8-0 mark and Helena is second at 7-1.
With the recent approval by the MSHA of the Class AA bracket that mirrors soccer and football for state playoffs, in that it will be a 16-team, single-elimination bracket, with the higher-seeded teams hosting.
That means winning the Western AA would clinch home-court advantage at least through the the semifinals.
"It's going to be a little different," Day said. "But I think it will be exciting and that's why I've been telling my team it's really important to get a top two seed."
A win Thursday night against the Bruins would go a long way towards making that happen and the Bengals are hoping that playing at the Jungle will give them a boost after going down at the Bears Den, even with fewer spectators than normal.
"It's still crosstown and it's still a big deal to the kids, regardless if there is a big student section or not," Day said. "It's still the same feel and they have the same sense of wanting to win. There is still a lot of pressure but it's fun to see the kids compete, especially because we have those athletes who are really good friends and play together during club season. It's fun they can step on the court and compete and then still be friends off of it."
The two teams will square off Thursday night at approximately 6 p.m.
Just as with Capital, the Bengals will play Flathead Friday in a makeup contest. The Bengals will host the Bravettes at 12:30 p.m. Friday; Capital and Flathead will play at 4 p.m. at the Bears Den.