With a 25-15, 25-17, 25-12 sweep of Laurel at home Tuesday night, the Rams improved to 8-0 in conference matches and 21-5 overall. True to its ambitions, Central has a chance to run the table in its league with its last two regular-season matches against Sidney and Glendive on Saturday.
“We set the goal of being undefeated in conference and that’s what we’re going to do,” said senior setter Baylee Hadley, who finished with 29 assists against Laurel. “We’re not going to settle for anything less than that.”
The Rams haven’t lost an Eastern A match since a four-set defeat to Miles City last Oct. 20. And they’ve made short work of all Class A opponents this season, having swept every match so far.
Whether that makes them a frontrunner for state tournament hardware remains to be seen, but it’s on the to-do list.
“We have to make it there first,” Hadley said. “That’s our main goal. We’re going to play hard till the final point no matter if it’s in our (favor) or not. I’m excited. I think this team’s really ready.”
Against Laurel, Central used precise serving to control the match. The Rams finished with 18 aces and gave the Locomotive fits with serve placement.
Casey Tehle, who is probably Central’s best server, had five aces, three of which came within the first four points of the match. Later in the opening set, Tehle served the Rams to eight straight points.
“That’s what she does,” said outside hitter Justyn Juhl. “She set her role up at the beginning of the season, and she’s just perfect. She’s done her job, and she’s going to keep doing her job.”
Juhl said the Rams’ main objective was to concentrate on offense -- to pass and hit with more accuracy. Juhl had a match-high nine kills, while Erika Kuehn added seven. Central finished with 31 kills in all.
Josie Gordon led the Locomotives with eight of their 33 digs. Abbie Lohof and Kaylee Davis each had four kills.
Laurel coach Nikki Burke said Central won the match at the service line.
“We can’t win when a team gets in double digits in aces,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Laurel’s frustrations continued with the loss. The Locomotives are now 1-19 overall and 0-8 in the league. That’s quite a dip from last season, when they won the state championship.
But with the Eastern A tournament beginning next week in Glendive, everybody gets a fresh start.
“In the postseason it’s 0-0,” Burke said. “I think we can surprise some teams, but we have to have more confidence. Sometimes I see it, sometimes I don’t. If we can keep our confidence and finish sets, we’ll be ready.”
Central def. Laurel 25-15, 25-17, 25-12
Laurel (1-19, 0-8) -- Kills: 12 (Abbie Lohof 4, Kaylee Davis 4). Blocks: 1 (Lohof). Aces: 8 (Kershell Herden 3, Maygan McFate 3). Digs: 33 (Josie Gordon 8). Assists: 9 (McFate 5).
Billings Central (21-5, 8-0) -- Kills: 31 (Justyn Juhl 9). Blocks: 4 (Jenny Garber 2, Erika Kuehn 2). Aces: 18 (Casey Tehle 5). Digs: 37 (Mirrada Clarin 10). Assists: 31 (Baylee Hadley 29).