Before beginning Tuesday’s practice, Bonneville High School head volleyball coach Chantal McMurtrey shared a few words with the Bees.
She told them how a recent visit to check her mailbox in Bonneville’s administrative office resulted in conversations about this weekend’s 4A state tournament with Bonneville’s assistant principals Levi Owen and Benjamin Parker. McMurtrey said to Owen and Parker how it was ‘pretty cool’ to get to go to state this year, to which the assistant principals replied, “Pretty cool? It’s freakin’ awesome!”
Recalling this conversation to the Bees, McMurtrey told her players that it made her think about state earlier in the week than usual, and it made her cry in the administrative office.
“I’m really lucky to have you guys in my life,” McMurtrey said to her team. “So thanks for being awesome.”
Upon being met with smiles from the Bees, McMurtrey then told them, “Let’s make this the best practice ever.”
McMurtrey has seen Bonneville win four state titles and several athletes go on to play in college since her first season as head coach in 2005. The 2018 team, however, returns six members of last year’s repeat 5A state championship team and secured Bonneville’s 14th postseason appearance in 16 seasons, is one McMurtrey puts in a new category.
“We’ve had some great players at Bonneville, but this is the best team we’ve ever had,” McMurtrey said. “Overall, skill level and knowledge of the game, I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of team. (Assistant coach) Drew (Johnson) and I just know we’re so lucky to be part of their lives.”
The returning members of last year’s team have already accomplished something no Bonneville volleyball team had done before: repeat as state champions. Not only is there the potential to get a third consecutive title, but to make further history by continuing a title streak in a new classification. The Idaho High School Activities Association doesn’t have a database of classification changes, but according to their records dating back to 1976, Sandpoint is the only school to repeat as volleyball state champion a year after a classification change. After winning the 5A title in 1999, Sandpoint won 4A in 2000.
The possibility to win a third title a year after changing classifications has been the ‘end goal’ for the Bees this season, junior middle blocker Sadie Lott said.
“We’re definitely going for a three-peat,” said Lott, who is one of three juniors who have played on varsity since their freshmen season. “I’ve grown up playing volleyball with these girls for a long time. I’m pretty lucky that I get the opportunity to play volleyball with them.”
Members of Bonneville are already working their way up school record books. McMurtrey said every Bonneville all-time volleyball record is on pace to be broken in every stat category by the time this year’s junior class graduates. As of Tuesday, Lott is Bonneville’s new all-time leader in blocks and fellow junior Alexis McMurtrey has broken all-time records in assists and aces. The one stat category that hasn’t been too threatened this season is digs due to so few of Bonneville’s matches going long. Not counting tournaments and districts, all but one of Bonneville’s matches this season lasted three sets. The opponent in that one match? Former conference foe Madison, which is also the lone Idaho team to have beaten Bonneville this season.
“The thing is, they don’t even care about their stat numbers,” McMurtrey said. “They play because they love it. As good as they are, they are getting better every day. They push each other in practice. It’s like ‘anything you can do, I can do better.’”
McMurtrey credited the two seniors on the 2016 5A title team, Michaila Walton and Kiley McMurtrey, for laying the foundation for the 2018 team. Lott said those two players taught her a lot about communication and composure when she was one of three Bonneville freshmen two years ago. That example has proven beneficial as she is now an upperclassman on a team that is more than familiar with playing under pressure.
“We’ve definitely had to fill their shoes a bit,” Lott said. “There’s a big target on our back. I just think we can’t take any team for granted at state. We’re just gotta stay together and work our hardest.”
Bonneville (36-3) begins state Friday with a 9 a.m. match versus District 4-5 runner-up Twin Falls (28-8) at Rocky Mountain High School. The Bees met the Bruins twice previously this season at the annual Bonneville-Hillcrest Classic Tournament. McMurtrey said the Bees hang their hats on defense and speed.
“We’ve had a lot of people comment that our team is fun to watch,” she said. “It’s a much faster style of volleyball. It isn’t easy to do.”
Here’s a look at the six other teams representing District 6 this weekend in the Treasure Valley.
MADISON BOBCATS (35-4)
The Bobcats make their third consecutive state tournament appearance and sixth in seven seasons. This is the first time within that stretch, however, that Madison reaches state with a single digit number in the loss column. For the first time since 2012, Madison enters state as 5A District 5-6 champions. The Bobcats graduated four from last year’s team which placed third. Of their four losses this season, three are to Bonneville. The Bobcats are also the lone Idaho team to beat Bonneville this season. Madison has won 10 volleyball state trophies including three titles (1988, 1989, 1992). Madison’s most recent hardware came the last two seasons, back-to-back third place trophies.
The Bobcats face Boise (8-11) in a 9 a.m. match Friday to begin the state tournament at Ridgevue High School.
Rigby makes its first state tournament appearance since 2011, when the state tournament was single-elimination format and the Trojans lost the 4A consolation match. This is Rigby’s first appearance in the 5A state tournament and, per IHSAA records, this is Rigby’s seventh appearance at state since 1985. The Trojans reached state with an impressive run at the 5A District 5-6 tournament. They entered as the No. 3 seed, falling to No. 2 seed Thunder Ridge in the first round and working their way through the loser’s bracket to reach the title match versus Madison to secure a state tournament berth. Rigby has won two volleyball state trophies, most recently 4A state runner-up in 2010, but has never won a state title.
Rigby opens the state tournament with an 11 a.m. match Friday versus Timberline (14-3) at Ridgevue High School.
SUGAR-SALEM DIGGERS (22-9)
The Diggers make their eighth consecutive state tournament appearance and 13th in 14 seasons. Sugar-Salem is two-time defending state champion and enters this weekend having won its second district championship in three seasons. The Diggers graduated six from last year’s state championship team. Sugar-Salem went 3-1 in conference play this year, with the lone loss coming in five sets to last year’s state runner-up South Fremont. The Diggers have won 16 volleyball state trophies including seven titles.
Sugar-Salem opens the state tournament with a 9 a.m. match Friday versus Parma at Mountain View High School.
FIRTH COUGARS (24-6)
The Cougars make the postseason for the seventh consecutive season. Firth won its third consecutive 2A District 6 title last week to wrap up an undefeated season versus conference opponents. The Cougars graduated four from last year’s team which placed third. Per IHSAA records, Firth has won eight volleyball state trophies (three titles) since 1985.
The Cougars begin the state tournament with an 11 a.m. match Thursday versus Soda Springs at Capital High School.
WEST JEFFERSON PANTHERS
The Panthers return to the state tournament for the second consecutive season. According to IHSAA records, this is West Jefferson’s seventh trip to the state tournament since 1985. West Jefferson took second in the 2A District 6 tournament to Firth — the only conference team West Jefferson lost to this season. The Panthers graduated four from last year’s team, which went two and out at state. West Jefferson’s last trophy at state was the state championship in the 2010 season, the last season the Panthers won a match at the state volleyball tournament.
West Jefferson plays an 11 a.m. match Friday versus Declo at Capital High School to begin the state tournament.
Class 1A Division II
The Warriors advance to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive season and third time in their six-year history as a program. Watersprings took second in District 5-6 and swept Hansen in three sets in a play-in game last weekend to reach state. The Warriors enter this season as defending state champions, claiming last year’s title in back-to-back five-set matches over Butte County. It was the first state title in any sport in school history. The Warriors’ other volleyball state trophy was third place in 2016. Watersprings graduated one from last year’s team and is also without junior Abigail Yadon, who missed the season upon recovering from surgery after reinjuring her knee early in the spring during track season.
Watersprings plays Logos in an 11 a.m. match Friday at Borah High School to begin the state tournament.