Printed on: October 31, 2013

Miners making moves

By JEFF PINKHAM
jpinkham@postregister.com

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Mackay High School volleyball team.

The Miners lost five seniors from a team that placed second in the 1A Division II state tournament a year ago. One of those seniors, Gabby McIntosh, was a four-year starter at setter. In her place was a freshman.

A return trip to the state tournament would have been considered a bonus, not the expected outcome.

But after 20 wins without a loss this fall, the Miners aren't only going back to state -- they're considered one of the favorites. Mackay begins play against District 1-2 runner-up Nezperce at 10 a.m. Friday at Lewiston High School.

"I figured we'd do well, but I never expected to go 20-0," Mackay coach Bridget Severe said. "These girls just mesh. Their chemistry is what makes the difference."

That chemistry starts with the team's two seniors, middle blockers Alex Nelson and Sarah Thomas.

"They are blocking machines," Severe said.

But more than their blocking, Severe said their leadership made the difference for a team that was breaking in freshman setter Morgan Betzer.

"You know how seniors can sometimes be with a freshman on the varsity team," Severe said. "But they accepted her right away and worked with her every day."

Despite her youth and inexperience, Betzer shined as setter, with plenty of help from outside hitters Chelbee Rosenkrance and Cheyan James, among others.

"We have four solid outside hitters," Severe said. "When you have that, it makes things a lot easier."

The Miners beat local rival Butte County twice, knocking off the Pirates in four sets in mid-September and in three games in early October. Mackay's closest calls came in two matches against Challis -- both of them five-set wins. Those were the Miners' first wins over Challis in eight years.

"I'm from Challis, so those were a little bittersweet," Severe said. "But we've had a goal for I don't know how many years to beat Challis. And this year we got the opportunity."

Not surprisingly, Mackay's unbeaten run has caught the attention of the town of 500. Severe said the team hosted a community dinner Monday night to help raise money for the trip to Lewiston, where the 1A Division II tournament will be held. The dinner and auction brought in more than $2,500.

"As small as Mackay is -- and it keeps getting smaller -- the community is awesome," Severe said. "And I think part of it is the girls getting out in the community, doing community projects. Being good mentors to the younger kids is important in a small town."