HELENA -- Last season, the Helena Capital volleyball team ended a 16-year state championship drought and with the 2019 season rapidly approaching, the Bruins have an eye on even more history and a second state title.
Of course, if the Bruins are able to repeat as Class AA champions, they would be the first volleyball team in Capital history to do so.
But even with the weight of high expectations and the pressure that comes with being a defending champion, Capital is simply takings things one day at a time.
“We only lost one starter,” Capital head volleyball coach Rebecca Cleveland said. “We have most of the same team coming back so we are just trying to pick up where we left off.”
From top to bottom, the Bruins are loaded and it all starts with junior setter Audrey Hofer who was named the Gatorade Montana Volleyball Player of the Year in 2018.
Hofer was recognized after a spectacular sophomore campaign that saw her rack up 828 assists, 162 digs, 110 kills, 54 aces and 42 blocks. Her hitting percentage also checked in at .386 as she was also named First-Team All-State, as well as Western Class AA Player of the Year.
“If we are looking at those stats,” Cleveland said of Hofer. “She is a great leader both offensively and defensively.”
Joining Hofer on the All-State team of the Western AA is outside hitter Sarah Ashley, who is entering her fourth season as a starter for the Bruins. She will be joined by two other dominant players upfront and those are the Bartsch twins, Paige and Dani. The players that both stand 6-foot-1 or taller will be juniors in 2019. Dani will join Ashley and an outside hitter while Paige will patrol the block.
“Sarah has been a four-year starter and she is a dominant hitter,” Cleveland said. “Then, we also have our Bartsch twins and they are both very solid leaders in their own way. They both started in the middle and last season, Dani moved outside and did a bang-up job. So she will be there and Paige will stay in the middle. They are just confident, aggressive, young ladies.”
When it comes to killing the ball, few teams in the state can rival the firepower of Helena Capital. However, winning, as we all know, isn’t just about offense. You have to defend too and with players such as senior Mashayla O'Malley and sophomore Kennedy Pocha returning, the Bruins are elite in that area of the game too.
Mackenzie Poteet will be another key contributor. Madi Davis is another senior hitter that will be counted on along with defensive specialist Megan Logan, who is yet another senior.
“We have a lot of really strong defenders,” Cleveland said. “Across the board, we have some really good depth. We have a lot of young girls that have been working hard and are very coachable. I can see the success in the younger programs already.”
With so much depth and talent at her disposal, Cleveland knows her squad is looked at as one of the favorites in AA for the 2019 season, if not the favorite, but at the same time, her task is keeping her team focused on the here and now.
The state tournament, after all, is three months away and regular-season matches have yet to begin.
“We know that it’s a new year and there are no guarantees with any match,” Cleveland said. “We are trying to view every practice as an opportunity to get better both as individuals and as a team. Our team motto this year is all in. So we are all in and challenging each other to get after every ball and to not be satisfied.”
“We want to continue to challenge each other and push ourselves,” She continued. “And if that puts us in that final match for the state championship, great. But if a loss does happen, we treat it as a learning experience and an opportunity.”
If a loss equals a learning experience, then the rest of Class AA will get plenty of lessons from the Bruins in 2019.
The Bruins open the season Friday in Billings and will host Bozeman Sept. 3.