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Bozeman was tired of trailing by the fourth set.

So the Hawks, who lost a tight first set and then erased deficits in the second and third, led almost the whole way in the fourth to eventually claim a 3-1 win against visiting Belgrade on Thursday evening.

The match’s first set featured eight ties before the Panthers (4-7, 1-5 Eastern AA) created some separation for a 25-21 win. Bozeman won the next three sets, though, by scores of 25-18, 25-16, 25-15.

In the final set, Bozeman won the first point and Belgrade won the second to create the only tie. The Hawks won the next four points and never trailed again.

“It felt really good being up the whole way because it let us be a little more confident and play a little more loose which helped our energy a lot,” Hawks setter Clara Fox said.

Bozeman moved to 9-2 overall and 3-2 in the conference in large part by manufacturing comebacks in the middle sets.

Some strong serving from Belgrade’s Olivia Wegner gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead to open the second game. Belgrade also held an 11-6 lead before Bozeman won the next five points to create a deadlock. The teams split the next two points, creating another brief tie at 12 before Bozeman went ahead for good.

The Panthers opened with a 7-3 lead at the start of the third set, but a 13-2 run from the Hawks flipped the game and Belgrade couldn’t recover.

“The girls even said they started to get in a flow at the end of the first set, and they were able to hold onto that for the next three,” Bozeman head coach Jeni Anderson said. “We have to be in a flow. Every team we play in the Eastern AA is competitive, so we can’t slack off ever.”

Fox tallied 36 assists to go with 10 digs in the match. She helped facilitate the offensive attack that resulted in 16 kills for Jenavieve Lynch, 10 for Carissa Stratman and eight for Bria Isley. Lynch added 2.5 blocks, and Avery Burkhart and Morgan Kimmel each notched two.

Over the course of the contest, Anderson saw her team playing a more deliberate game.

“I saw them get smarter as the match went on,” she said. “They started to really look at the other side and be strategic with where they were placing the ball instead of hammering away or tipping to the normal spots.”

In the first set, Belgrade also started quick, posting a 5-1 lead. Bozeman battled to tie it at 5, and the teams alternated almost every point from there until they were again tied at 14. Belgrade won the next five for a little cushion and held on for the 1-0 set lead. Tayler Thomas had a kill to make it 24-21 and teammates Jenna Garvert and Wegner combined for a block to win the set.

“Our energy was super high and everyone was in it together,” Belgrade libero Tycelee Bowler said. “We really worked as a team that game.”

Panthers head coach Brittany Murphy said the team’s communication faltered going forward, though.

“They have been working really hard on working together as a team and communicating efficiently, and in that first set that’s exactly what they did,” she said. “Starting that second set, the communication dropped big time.”

Bowler led the team with 28 digs. Thomas recorded 11 kills and was backed up by Josie Blazina with eight. Wegner had four aces, and Garvert had 22 assists.

Fox said it will be important for the Hawks to retain their “fire” from the final three sets moving forward.

“The second, third and fourth, we used that and were really, like, ‘This is where we have to prove ourselves, to push, and we don’t want to take it to five,” Fox said. “We used (the first set) to push ourselves.”

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Parker Cotton can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.

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