When Bozeman clinched a bye to state two weeks ago, Ashley Obstar understood the significance. In a deep Class AA field, finishing second in the East was another signal to the head coach how talented her team is.
Thus began a two-week stretch without any games that continued a season-long quest to peak during the second weekend of November.
“There’s nothing that we could have done more to prepare, which is a very nice feeling,” Obstar said. “It’s not like, ‘If we just had one more week to practice this.’”
The Hawks open the Class AA tournament as the East’s No. 2 seed plays the West’s third-seeded Kalispell Flathead at 4 p.m. today at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Bozeman spent recent practices preparing mentally with inspirational readings, physically with position-specific drills and as a team with chemistry-building exercises.
In the process of securing a 21-7 regular season record and a 10-2 conference record, the Hawks developed trust among teammates and a resiliency that will likely be counted on again.
“It’s been really nice,” senior outside hitter Mara Lynch said. “It’s been kind of hard not playing, but at the same time, we get to work on everything without any interruptions and really focus on what we need to do.”
Before each practice the past month, Obstar organized 10-15 minute sessions for the team to read a booklet titled “Compete” by Bruce Brown. The group typically read about two pages per day and completed the readings Wednesday.
Each time, players highlighted text and jotted down notes. Obstar gave them a question to write a reflection on to learn about their mental approach. She said it might just be the “nerdy teacher in me” but mentioned the benefits of using volleyball to teach lessons that apply to other areas of life.
The readings were designed to help hone the Hawks’ mentality entering the state tournament. They covered topics such as playing fearlessly, ignoring the score and performing at one’s best.
Obstar took the idea from a combination of previous Bozeman coaches Erika Gustavsen, who used to have players read inspirational texts, and Katie Laslovich, who recommended Bruce Brown.
“It’s a really nice outlet. It’s different than practice and conditioning. It’s kind of like our one time to sit down, read together, write about it, talk about it,” Obstar said. “I think that part of it is really fun. ... I just see a different side through their writing than I would as an athlete. That has been so much fun for me and for them, I think they’ve enjoyed it. I think they see the value in it.”
Obstar credited her players’ mental approach for why the Hawks have played well in five-set matches. Bozeman has gone to five sets on six occasions, she said, and won all but once.
That has helped build trust among teammates, which is something Obstar can’t coach. The repeated success throughout the season has put the Hawks in an advantageous position entering state.
The team would prefer to win more comfortably and play more consistent, but closing out matches late is a valuable skill that has readied Bozeman.
“That’s what our program does, it prepares us to go to five sets and not be tired and still give 100 percent effort,” senior middle Savannah Gara said. “Now that we’ve gone to five, we always start out kind of slow in our games, but by the end, the momentum is always ours. If we could just do that at state and start out strong, I think we’ll be good.”
Since the junior varsity, sophomore and freshman teams’ seasons have ended, the Hawks utilized their assistant coaches by splitting into positional drills for about a half hour each practice the past two weeks. That’s allowed for more individual coaching and feedback.
To stay occupied without any games, Bozeman also held a scavenger hunt this past weekend and other team activities, which have also transferred to the court.
“We got to work on a whole bunch of different things and actually break down everything again and rework on it,” senior libero Ayla Embry said. “So it was beneficial.”
Since August, Obstar said, the Hawks’ goal has been to play on the final day.
“I’m really excited for state this year because we definitely have a good chance of winning hopefully,” Gara said. “Whatever’s going to happen, we’ll see.”