MonDak Thunder Represents District 1C At State
By Virgil Vaupel
Published: Thursday, November 15th, 2012
Four classes, 32 teams, 384 players and 32 head coaches – all with the same mind set as they converged on the “Brick” in Bozeman for the all-class state volleyball tournament last weekend. All 400 players and coaches had a burning desire to hold up the championship trophy on Saturday.
Cities and towns from every part of Montana were represented, from the largest, Billings, population, about a bazillion, to Westby (Grenora's partner) nestled way up in the northeast corner, half in and half out of North Dakota with a population of about 100 or so.
My favorite team, of course, is the Saco/Hinsdale Lady Panthers who made it out of districts and into divisionals, a goal they had set for themselves at the beginning of the season, but didn't qualify for the trip to Bozeman.
Four teams of the 12 team 1C conference advanced from districts to divisionals and only two made it to state from there.
The MonDak Thunder (the team formerly known as the Westby/Grenora Gophers) got sent to the losers bracket at the district 1C tourney by Fairview in the semi-final round but after dispatching the R&L Fusion, moved on to the championship match and beat Fairview twice for the heavy hardware.
At the Eastern C Divisional, MonDak had to go to work. They sent Terry to the losers' bracket in five sets, then Jordan fell in five. The Thunder remained unbeaten when they put Wibaux down in four sets.
Wibaux beat Ekalaka for the opportunity to play MonDak in the championship match but lost to the Thunder in three. The stage was set for the trip to Bozeman.
MonDak entered the tournament as an unknown, this being their very first trip to state since their co-op began nine years ago. Their head coach, Trisha Howitz answered an ad online and became the third-grade teacher in Grenora and the volleyball coach for the Westby/Grenora team. That association has lasted four years and has been quite successful with Taryn Sweet assisting with the coaching duties.
My first look at the Thunder came when their freshman phenom 5' 9” outside hitter, Chelsea Berg, was just a seventh grader, and 5'9” junior middle blocker, Sophia Ekness, was a skinny, gangly freshman. Sophia is still a tad bit on the 'thin' side but she can jump outta' the building when blocking her opponents and her kill shot goes straight down with authority.
Shayla Garman, 5'9” RH is the other junior, and other than having a devastating spike shot, can play the back row very well indeed. So can her teammate, and the Thunder's inspirational leader, Kayla Rust, a 5'9” senior outside hitter.
Senior Tess Bjorgen is their 5'9” setter and throughout the three tournaments made some crucial point-saving digs and saves.
Team leader in kills and all around MVP was Kori Gunlikson, also a 5'9” senior, who, along with the other two seniors, will be sorely missed come graduation time.
The Thunder's lone sophomore, Sabrina Carter got in some quality playing time and showed willingness and ability to take the place of Kayla next year. Freshman libero, Bailey Solberg, did a nice job returning serves and making really good passes.
Tami Cazier, Megan Keyes and Mireya Rico are waiting patiently in the wings to earn their places on future teams.
And what team can survive without their managers to do all the "heavy lifting." For the Thunder, it was Katie Muller and Kirsti Kueffler.
At state, teams with unblemished records sometimes get knocked down to the losers bracket in the first match by an unknown with a 7-5 record. At state, unknowns whup-up on perennial favorites.
It just doesn't get any better than this. There are no losers at state. Hey, you're among the elite, the best the state of Montana has to offer.
It's sad when one sees a teary-eyed father of a senior who has just played her last high school match and has failed to achieve her main goal. Or a mother consoling a sobbing daughter after a hard fought five match loss. (This ol' writer gets teary-eyed his own self.)
The MonDak Thunder made a grand play for the 'heavy hardware' but fell one match short. They won the district championship, conference co-championship and divisional championship. In the eyes of their loyal fans, parents, grandparents, siblings and classmates, they are champions indeed.
That's it for now, folks. Thanks for listening.
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