POCATELLO – Not everything was familiar about Thursday for Century, but beating a city rival was.
After a rare district loss earlier in the day against Preston, the Diamondbacks rebounded with a three-set win over Highland at Century High School.
Century (9-3, 3-1 4A District 4-5) controlled the entire match en route to set wins by scores of 25-16, 25-17, 25-20.
“I am pleased with where we’re going,” Diamondbacks coach Breanne Robinson said. “Both the girls and I know we’ve got a lot of progress to make before where we’re going, but the trajectory we’re on is pretty good.”
Highland (5-5, 0-1 5A District 5-6) never led in the first set, only led 1-0 in the final set and its last lead in the second was 10-9.
“They practice really hard and they do it right in practice, but they’re not showing up when it comes to game time and we’ve got to make that transfer,” second-year Highland coach Kelsey Bystrom said.
“They should be performing and they’re not.”
Century has established its dominance not only over the Gate City but 4A, winning its seventh state title of this decade last year. Although, it was a first for Century’s third-year head coach.
“I feel like my relationship with the girls is stronger, which comes with experience,” Robinson said. “So that part is easier. We know what is expected of each other. They know what to expect from me. I know what to expect from them. But as far as feeling like I’m a world-class coach, I’m not there yet at all, so always learning.”
Her job is made more difficult with the loss of Chinma Njoku and Zoe Thiros, who are both playing in their first years for NCAA Division I programs on the Boise State basketball and Gonzaga volleyball teams, respectively.
While the Diamondbacks return the rest of their starters, they showed they have a ways to go, suffering their first district loss since 2017 on Thursday. The Diamondbacks split the first four sets, 25-15, 23-25, 17-25, 25-9, before losing the final set 13-15.
“We just came out and were passive,” Robinson said. “So we kind of just let them take control of the game and we weren’t playing our style of volleyball. And by the time we got back to what we did good, it was a little too late.”
Robinson said the main takeaway from the loss is getting better control of the game, which her team did the following match.
Senior standouts Abby Christensen and Julia McNulty led in the second match. Christensen, who delivered the most thunderous spikes, tallied 24 kills, while McNulty led in digs (12) and assists (26) against the Rams.
Highland’s stat leaders against Century were McKenna Armstrong (seven kills) and Kaylee Nielsen (16 digs).
The Rams struggled to get anything going against the Diamondbacks from the start, falling behind by as many eight points in the first set, which was the final margin.
Century middle blocker Ashley Harris sent a ball to the baseline that Highland failed to corral for the first point of the match and her team was off and running.
The highlight of the set was when McNulty flung her body past the baseline to save an errantly dug ball, in what amounted to a point for the Diamondbacks to put them ahead 19-11.
Highland mounted its biggest challenge in the second set, knotted 13-13 before a service error gave its foe the lead for good. Century senior Jillian Nuding completed a 5-0 run with a service ace to give her team enough breathing room at 18-13.
PHOTOS: Century vs. Highland volleyball
Bystrom’s team has been swept in each of her two matches against Century, though she is not the only Rams coach to struggle against the rival in this decade.
“It’s frustrating, as a coach, to show up to a rivalry game and have your team give away the game by unforced errors,” Bystrom said. “So I don’t like losing when my team doesn’t show up to play.”
The Rams brought back three players from last year – all returning starters – after eight players graduated last year.
Bystrom said the main goal for her team is to “get a competitive mindset and a tough mental game.”
“Volleyball is a very mental sport,” Bystrom said. “The momentum of the game can switch on a dime and if you’re not mentally tough enough to bounce back from it and keep pushing when you’re done, the other team is just going to walk over you like what happened tonight.”
Highland hosts Pocatello next Thursday, while Century plays Tuesday at Pocatello.