HELENA — Last season, the Helena High volleyball team nearly completed a magical run to the Class AA state championship.
The Bengals lost their first match at the state tournament and then went on a tear before falling to crosstown rival and eventual champ, Helena Capital, in the AA final.
And while the hurdle of Capital still looms large heading into the 2020 season, the Bengals are looking forward to the challenge of another postseason run.
"I think it gives us more confidence," Bengals senior Brooke Ark said of last season's run. "But it also gives us something to hold ourselves to and I think we are all hoping for another great season."
Ark was All-State honorable mention a season ago for the Bengals, following a solid campaign that included 63 aces and 207 digs as a defensive specialist.
Yet, she's not the only Bengal returning with experience and another who is returning for Helena High is Liz Heuiser, one of the top hitters in Class AA.
Heuiser is already signed to play college volleyball at Carroll and inked with the Saints after a season that included 364 kills, 97 blocks and 183 digs, which also helped her earn First-Team All-State honors.
For her part, Heuiser was just excited to have a chance at a senior season.
"It's really exciting," she said. "We weren't able to have a spring season, so we are all excited to be back in the gym playing volleyball again."
Heuiser will also get the chance to play alongside her sister one more time, as Lauren, a sophomore hitter for the Bengals, will also have a key role after being a key contributor off the bench a season ago.
"It will be fun to play with her for one more year," Liz said. "We have definitely gotten closer being in high school together and playing sports together. We didn't know if we could get the chance, so we are pretty excited about that."
Additionally, the Bengals are loaded with experience as five other seniors will contribute this season including Kylie Lantz, Maddie McNeil, Alyssa Koening, Dani Steinmetz and Aubrie Christman.
Christman gives the Bengals another reliable outside hitter along with the Heuisers who are each 6-foot, while sophomores Kim Feller and Alex Bullock, who are each 5-foot-9, will also work their way onto the court.
Rounding out the varsity roster this season for the Bengals are Katelyn Onespot-Danforth, Annika Nehring, Natalie Seburn, Morin Blaise, Sydney Mattfeldt, Ashlyn Lamping, Morgan Olson, Julia Thompson and Brooke Richardson.
"It's been a long three-and-a-half weeks of practice," Helena head coach Lindsey Day said. "So I know the girls are anxious to get started."
Even though Helena High has to replace a number of key graduates from a year ago, Day is excited about her team's potential.
"We lost a lot of seniors," Day said. "So we knew that would be tough but I'm very pleased so far with some girls stepping up and doing some good things for us."
Helena Capital is one team that will stand in the way of the Bengals winning the state championship, but as far as challenging the Bruins, Helena should have as good a shot as anyone.
"Capital is obviously going to be really solid this year," Day said. "The Western AA is going to be good again and there are a lot of new coaches, I don't really know what to expect."
Whatever the competition, Day's team is motivated for a return trip to the title match.
"I think you could see, even in the summer kids were more motivated," she said. "I think they are motivated to get back to that state championship and get that state tournament feel. It motivates all of us to get there and experience that again."
Helena High will open its season Thursday in the Jungle against Missoula Hellgate. The start time is approximately 7 p.m.