Broncs navigate uncertainty, play 21 matches

Belle Fourche’s Mataya Ward, right, attempts an attacking kill during a varsity volleyball match last season. Ward and the Broncs finished with a 7-14 record. Pioneer file photo

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BELLE FOURCHE — A season of uncertainly because of COVID-19 ended with the Broncs able to play 21 matches and finish with a 7-14 record.

Head coach Loree Schlichtemeier said her memories from the season started last summer, where no open gyms or other volleyball activities were conducted. Coaches and players held virtual meetings.

“We just didn’t really have any idea if we were going to have a season,” Schlichtemeier said. She also recalled the players were really excited to be able to practice in small-group pods (10 or fewer members).

Schlichtemeier remembered wondering what she was preparing for, when the season began. “It was just so hard to gauge where we were headed,” she said.

“The strong points were our seniors that we had this year,” Schlichtemeier said. “They handled all of this craziness really well, and that kind of rubbed off on all the other girls.”

Finding players to fill certain roles posed a concern for Schlichtemeier. She cited the importance of having versatile athletes on the roster.

The Broncs dropped their first four matches. A three-games-to-one victory over Lead-Deadwood moved Belle Fourche to 1-4.

Belle Fourche conquered Aberdeen Roncalli (three games to zero), Powder River County (three games to zero), and Hot Springs (three games to one) to improve to 4-6. That marked the Broncs’ longest winning streak of the season.

The pandemic forced Belle Fourche’s season to stop for a while.

“Your team is gaining some momentum and doing some really good things, and then you’re out for 10 days,” Schlichtemeier said of that time. “That’s hard to come back and pick up where you left off, so it was kind of like we started our season again.”

Victories over Douglas (three games to zero), Bennett County (three games to zero), and Lead-Deadwood (three games to two) highlighted the rest of the regular campaign.

Belle Fourche brought a 7-13 record and number 6 seed into the Region 7-8A tournament. A three-games-to-zero loss to Winner Area ended the Broncs’ season.

Schlichtemeier said the Bronc players experienced a range of thoughts this season. They included feeling fortunate to play a match, and then changing that mindset into one of having to compete.

“We had a great game against Hot Springs,” Schlichtemeier said in citing season highlights. That included a 30-28 win in the third set, and she called that a turning point.

Schlichtemeier cited the Aberdeen Roncalli win as another highlight.

“I look at all of our girls in our high school program. There are so many of them that really changed and improved throughout the season,” Schlichtemeier said.

Amity Middleton, Kylee Crago, Hayley Wilbur, Layla Hockenbary, and Katie Mailloux represented the senior class.

“They took their leadership seriously and wanted the younger kids to live up to some standards that we have in our program,” Schlichtemeier said of the seniors. “They always worked hard, no matter what was going on.”

Schlichtemeier was asked what she sees in the future. She said some younger players have an excitement for the sport, but there is work to be done.

“I really enjoyed all of our kids in the program this year,” Schlichtemeier said.

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