After the initial celebrations of Bonneville’s three-set win over Timberline for the 2016 5A volleyball championship had passed, then Bonneville senior Kiley McMurtrey shared something with younger sister Alexis, then a freshman.
It was a comment Alexis didn’t fully understand until last season.
“My sister told us when I was a freshman, ‘You younger players don’t appreciate what this means,’” Alexis recalled during Tuesday’s practice at Bonneville. “I said, ‘Yes we do.’ She was right.”
What made Alexis realize what her sister meant? Losing to Century in four sets in last year’s 4A state championship match.
“It definitely shows that we have room for improvement,” she said.
The Bees entered last year’s state tournament having won two consecutive state titles in 5A, three consecutive district titles (two in 5A, one in 4A), sported a 36-3 overall record with one loss to an Idaho team: eventual 5A state champion Madison. Century, which featured two Division I signees in Zoe Thiros (Gonzaga) and Chinma Njoku (Boise State basketball), was not an opponent Bonneville had played during the regular season. The Diamondbacks defeated the Bees in four sets in the semifinals and followed that up with a four-set win in the title match to claim their first championship since winning their sixth consecutive title in 2015.
Bonneville head coach Chantal McMurtrey said she’s noticed added motivation among her returning players since last season ended.
“I think they were pretty stunned,” she said. “(Century) served really tough at us and we didn’t pass great, so we got out of system. I think some of their defensive kids played the best I’ve ever seen them. I think they played as best they could and we didn’t.”
Alexis and fellow seniors and four-year varsity players Sadie Lott and Makayla Sorensen all acknowledged that the Bees prepared differently for this weekend’s state tournament in north Idaho. It started with finalizing this season’s schedule, which included an early October tournament at Madison that allowed Bonneville to play Century.
Two things caught the Bees’ attention in that game (a 2-0 Bonneville win): the Diamondbacks have everyone back from last year’s team except Thiros and Njoku and they have some similarities to the Bees.
“Century is still a really tough team,” Alexis said. “They have great ball control.”
“I think they’re more of a defensive team this year,” Sorensen said. “They’re more like us.”
The Bees also played state qualifying teams Madison, Thunder Ridge and Lake City at that tournament. Later in the month, they played Utah 6A powerhouse Lone Peak twice (a three-set loss and a five-set loss). There was a specific thought process behind playing those opponents as well as the timing of those matches.
“Chantal tried really hard to get all our harder matches toward the end of the season,” Lott said. “I think that will help us a lot.”
“It’s also helped us peak at the right time,” Sorensen added. “Last year, we peaked too early.”
Bonneville’s varsity roster this season features several returning players and more substitutions available than a year ago due to recovery from injuries. The Bees graduated two from last year’s team, Paige Dixon and Sade Williams, who are now playing at the University of Providence at Great Falls and Eastern Oregon, respectively. Coach McMurtrey said Bonneville has benefited from having seniors Maely Harrigfeld and Maddi Pettingill healthy this season after both missed significant playing time last year with serious injuries.
“This team has a lot more chemistry,” coach McMurtrey said. “That’s a lot to be said when you’re coaching girls.”
Similar to a year ago, the Bees enter this weekend with 30-plus wins, a district championship and one loss to an Idaho team (Thunder Ridge on Sept. 10). Alexis, Lott and Sorensen, who are three-for-three thus far in reaching state title games, said they all know what it will take to win a blue trophy and banner this weekend.
“It’s gonna take everyone having to step up a bit harder this year,” Lott said.
“I feel like last year we went into state with the mindset of trying not to lose,” Alexis added. “This year we’re going in knowing that we want to win.”
Although they still have their final high school matches to play, they have already etched their names into Bonneville volleyball record books. Lott became Bonneville’s all-time leader in career blocks last season right before state, Alexis became Bonneville’s all-time leader in career aces and assists this season and Sorensen is 48 kills away from surpassing Haylie Keck (currently in her senior season at Idaho State) to become Bonneville’s all-time leader in career kills.
Coach McMurtrey described them as athletes coaches only get ‘once in a career’ and it is rare to have those types of athletes come through the program at the same time. She added they have not only influenced the program, but have shown that height isn’t everything. Of the three of them, Sorensen is the tallest at 5-foot-9.
“I think they’ve raised the bar for what the expectations are (for this program). Not just to win, but how they play,” she said. “They’ve had the luxury of pushing each other. It’s changed the mold almost. I think of all the things they’ve done, they’ve sort of defied what people think that you should do at that size.”
Bonneville (34-6) begins the state tournament with a 10 a.m. (Mountain Time) match Thursday versus Burley at Coeur d’Alene High School. Alexis, Lott and Sorensen added that it hasn’t quite hit them yet that this weekend is their final state tournament for Bonneville volleyball. They go back a long way as friends and teammates, having played together for the last decade.
Three years ago, they were the lone freshmen on a Bonneville team which won its first state title in seven years. Now they are the leaders of that same program heading to their fourth state tournament.
“They tell you freshman year that it’s gonna go by fast and you don’t believe them,” said Sorensen, who has committed to Weber State. “It feels like yesterday.”
Regardless of how fast or slow it seems the years have passed, that time together is what they consider the most rewarding part of their experiences as teammates.
“It’s been awesome to play with my friends,” said Lott, who is still considering her college volleyball options.
“I feel like we’re not just gonna think of the state titles that we’ve won,” added Alexis, who has committed to Eastern Oregon where her sister plays. “I think we’re gonna remember playing with our friends and all the memories we’ve had up to this point.”