HELENA — The faces on the Helena High School volleyball team had bigger smiles than usual on Thursday night.
It had been way too long since the Bengals were on the court together.
“Tonight was about playing together and creating that team chemistry,” senior middle hitter Liz Heuiser said.
Helena has had some open gym sessions in the summer, but nothing too excessive due to the coronavirus pandemic causing havoc throughout the nation.
So it did the best thing it could do to get back on track as a new season began.
The Bengals defeated Missoula Hellgate in four sets, 25-20, 25-20, 21-25, 25-15.
“A win always feels good,” Helena coach Lindsey Day said.
That isn’t to say the victory came with ease. The Bengals battled from behind in each of the four sets.
Day watched her players trail 11-7 in the first set until the tide turned following a time out.
Helena rallied with a pair of kills by Heuiser and her younger sister Lauren.
The Bengals took a 13-12 lead and rode the wave of momentum to a 25-20 win.
The Heuiser sisters combined for 10 of their 26 kills.
“My Heuiser girls work so well together. They are competitors,” Day said. “They just want to win.”
Hellgate jumped out to a quick lead in the second set but, once again, Liz Heuiser pushed the Bengals back in front.
Senior libero Brooke Ark helped out by nerving four aces but, while the Bengals thought they were on their away to an easy win, Hellgate had other thoughts.
The Knights closed the gap and Helena held on to a slim 19-17 lead.
“We made it look really hard,” Day said. “There were times where we were just so inconsistent.”
While Hellgate added kills from Gillian Sherrill and Wren Fillardi, the Bengals also committed self-made errors that turned into 16 service errors.
“We have a lot of things to work out,” Day said. “I think maybe it was just a lack of focus.”
Helena got back on track and sealed the set with Liz Heuiser coming away with another kill and block.
She finished the night with a team-best 16 kills.
Hellgate might have been down, but first-year coach Brittany Tilleman knew her team was not out.
The Knights powered through the third set with a new-found energy and cruised to a 18-10 lead before Day was forced to take a time out.
Helena clawed back to get within three points after a kill by Aubrie Christman, but Hellgate put the set away as Camille Sherrill took control of the offense.
“I just told them that this was their game to lose,” Tilleman said. “I was proud of how they turned it around. When they want to play, they can play.”
Following a back and forth start during the fourth set, the Bengals returned to form.
The Heuiser sisters exchanged kills and the Bengals slim lead turned into complete control. Liz Heuiser also added five blocks and watched her sister Lauren add 10 kills.
“It’s really nice because (Liz) can tell me things that the other girls can’t,” Lauren Heuiser said. “We just have a chemistry and connection. She isn’t afraid to tell me if I’m doing something wrong.”
No matter what kind of communication the sisters have, they look to continue their success this Saturday when Helena hosts Butte.
“I love the quick turn around,” Day said. “We are ready to compete.”
As for Hellgate, it will have return home to host Kalispell Flathead on Tuesday.