It might be cooling off outside but things are heating up in the gym for the Flathead and Glacier high school volleyball teams.
Flathead finished fourth at the AA State Tournament last season and Glacier fell just short of a state berth.
Glacier will start the season with most of its team intact while Flathead deals with the aftermath of losing five seniors.
Both teams travel to Great Falls for a dual tournament with Great Falls High School and C.M. Russell on Saturday.
The Bravettes will play at 12:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. and the Wolfpack plays at 12:30 and 4:30 p.m.
The Wolfpack returns all but two starters to this year’s squad.
Middle hitter Aubrie Rademacher and libero Kacey Hill are the team’s only two seniors. The majority are juniors and three sophomores.
The team was young last season and faced its share of challenges. It won the Western AA play-in game against Big Sky and came just short of making the Class AA state tournament with a loss to Flathead.
But despite how young the team might look on paper, the group is experienced and has a closeness that’s developed over the years.
“I think this is a really close group of kids,” longtime Glacier coach Christy Harkins said. “They’ve just been playing together for a long time and hanging around each other for a long time and that makes for some good chemistry. Really looking forward to how much fun we’re going to have this year.”
Because of this closeness, Harkins says players aren’t afraid to challenge each other to do better.
“It makes everybody a little more comfortable,” she said. “They can push each other a little harder because they’ve been friends for a while.”
The starting lineup is still a work in progress but Harkins says her team is strong in more than one area.
“We are still working in a lot of different areas,” Harkins said. “Offensively we have a lot of options, I think that’s a strength. Lots of good hitters. Lots of options in the front row.”
As part of realignment, Butte moved to Western AA and Belgrade to Eastern AA. Unlike football, the changes won’t affect volleyball at all, other than the two new teams in each division. Qualifying for divisional and playoff games will work the same way.
“I’m very optimistic,” Harkins said of the new season. Really been enjoying these past two weeks.”
The Bravettes lost five players to graduation in June and Flathead coach Nicole Fairclough has been busy figuring out how the team will look when the season begins on Saturday.
She isn’t considering it a rebuilding year, however.
“All the girls that are on varsity this year are hungry to get back to state,” Fairclough said. “We’re not that young but replacing five seniors is a big transition.”
Senior outside hitter Julia Burden, a 2018-19 first-team all-state and all-conference selection, and junior libero Maddie Lindbom are the only two returning starters.
The six juniors on the roster have gotten a taste of playing at the varsity level before this season but it’s still an adjustment.
“The juniors that are on varsity this year, two were on JV for two years as freshmen,” Fairclough said. “They’ve been moved up before so they’re used to that high level, it’s just getting them used to varsity.”
Varsity and junior varsity teams practice and run drills together, so every player is familiar with the routine should anyone need to move around.
“It’s a learning process, transition period,” Fairclough said.
“It’s taking time but that’s just part of the process.”
Fairclough expects FHS will be strong in many areas: offense, defense and service. Blocks were an area of strength the past few years but may be something to work on this season, she added.