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Friday, March 23, 2018

Lady Devils set to take on Hardin for second place in Eastern A (Slideshow 3)

By Eric Killelea

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

One team will claim bragging rights after the late-season volleyball showdown on Saturday, Oct. 14 between No. 2 Hardin and No. 3 Dawson County High School. The season is rapidly coming to a close as the two teams compete for the second place spot in the Eastern A Conference, trailing only behind No. 1 Billings Central.

Hardin beat DCHS earlier in the season. But the Lady Devils have since improved and head coach Tiffaney Egan has been telling her players that they can work hard and win.

Before the team’s latest victory against Sidney on Thursday night – which improved their Eastern A Conference record to 5-3 – senior co-captains Kayla Kelly and Adalie Reinhart told the Ranger-Review that they plan on defeating Hardin, pushing through Divisionals and making it to the Class A State tournament.  

“We’re doing good things this year and we’re on an upward spiral,” Kelly said during a phone interview on Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this year, Kelly – an 18-year-old singles player in tennis – began preparing for her senior season by transitioning from her “individual mental focus” needed in singles tennis to “team focus” for volleyball. A typical summer day involved working as a certified-nursing assistant between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Eastern Montana Veterans Home (she plans on enrolling in the nursing program at Montana State University next year), before her conditioning and weight lifting classes at Momentum Fitness, Inc. 

“I had to have a lot more strength in my legs: explosiveness more than quickness.” Kelly said. “My mental gears had to change. It wasn’t about me anymore. It was about the team.”

Kelly’s training regimen was influenced by Egan’s exercise program first introduced to the DCHS team in her first year as head varsity coach in 2016. On Aug. 11, the team began running two-a-day practices in the Dawson Community College gym, while their own court was under construction. 

“Our coach focused on strength and injury prevention,” Kelly said. “Now, we are the strongest we’ve ever been.”

During practice, Kelly was a middle blocker/middle hitter, whose primary job “is to block every hitter” on the other teams. (Most opponents run 6-2 rotations. Fewer try 5-1 rotations.) The middle blocker position is usually held for the tallest member of the team. At 5-10, Kelly shares the position with 6-0 sophomore Karsen Murphy.

Also at practice was 18-year-old Reinhart, an on- and off-court friend to Kelly, who lifted weights, conditioned year-round and attended summertime volleyball camps in Dickinson and Bismarck in North Dakota, before being named an outside hitter, responsible for blocking, passing and trying to get kills.

Together, Kelly and Reinhart help run a quick offense and rotational defense. 

“Quick sets to the outside middle or right side,” Kelly said. “And we rotate according to who is hitting on the other team.” 

The strategies seem to work well. The team is currently ranked No. 3 in their conference.

For now, Kelly and Reinhart believe there is room to improve in regards to consistency. 

“We play good and then not so good,” Kelly said. “We make dumb mistakes sometimes, but we’re getting better throughout the season.”  

Also, the individual players on the DCHS team are “very mellow and quiet on the court,” Kelly said. “I don’t think it helps, but it’s something we’re working on: calling the ball more, saying how many hitters are on the front row.”     

When describing the team’s strengths, Reinhart said the girls are good friends, who “find it easy to critique each other but in a positive way.” 

She added: “We know when someone is having a rough game and we try to help them instead of getting mad at them.” 

Reinhart sees herself as one of the players who “try to keep everyone grounded and makes sure no one gets upset at themselves.” She also said that Kelly was an “athletic leader” and then Kelly applauded the team’s first captain in senior Jaley Wyse, as a “talented player,” who helps the team stay on track. 

(In volleyball, the first captain position is the team’s “talking captain” as coaches are not allowed to talk to officials during matches. The first captain can collaborate with her co-captains, in this case Reinhart and Kelly, during matches.)

The humble girls complemented other teammates and their coach as well.

Reinhart on Robson: “Thea is an animal in the back row. She’s amazing.”

Kelly on Murphy: “Karsen hits push ones (it’s almost like an alley-oop in basketball when we push the ball into the middle and into her hands and she slams it over the net) and she’s tall and she can get the ball down on the 10-foot-line (it’s the line that divides the court and you want to hit it here because a lot of teams aren’t sucked in that much on defense)”

And, finally, Reinhart on Egan: “Coach Tiffaney is the best coach I’ve ever had, because even though she works us to death in conditioning, she really cares for you and you can talk to her about anything.”

The Lady Devils take on Hardin on Saturday. Varsity competition begins at 4 p.m.

Reach Eric Killelea at rrsports@rangerreview.com.

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