Some of the best volleyball programs in the state will convene at one location Friday when the Laker Invite tips off at Burlington-Des Lacs Elementary School.
Bishop Ryan and Our Redeemer's Christian School represent two of the four District 12 teams in the tournament field. The other two are host Des Lacs-Burlington and Kenmare.
The Laker Invite consists of 20 teams from 11 of the 16 districts. The squads are grouped into four five-team pools. Ryan (11-9 overall, 2-3 District 12) is in Pool B with Hazen (13-12-1, 2-1 District 14), Stanley (9-7-1, 4-0 District 16), Midkota (16-1-2, 5-0 District 7) and Park River-Fordville-Lankin (17-4-1, 9-1 District 4).
Bishop Ryan sophomore middle hitter Gabbie Bohl and the Lions begin play in the Laker Invitational Friday at Burlington-Des Lacs Elementary School.
"This is kind of like the state tournament," Ryan coach Patty Luetzen said. "It's a preview of the state tournament. The Des Lacs tournament has high-caliber teams."
The Lions played Hazen during the Glenburn tournament at the beginning of the season, splitting the two-game match. Ryan advanced to the championship game, losing in two games to Kenmare.
Luetzen said the tournament will serve as a way to showcase what the Lions have been working on in recent practices.
"We've put more variety into our offense this last week and it's still kind of fresh," she said. "I want to see it played out in a game."
The 20 teams have a combined record of 221-126-31 and 14 are above .500.
ORCS (20-6-3, 7-0 District 12) looks to improve on its sixth-place finish in last year's Laker Invite. The Knights play in Pool A with Langdon (10-2-2, 4-0 District 8), Lisbon (9-12-5, 7-4-1 District 6), North Border (2-9-1, 2-5 District 4) and Dickinson Trinity (12-12-1, 5-2 District 14).
Defending champion Central Cass (21-3-3, 4-0 District 2) plays in Pool D with Kenmare, Beulah (12-7-2, 2-1 District 14), Divide County (12-12-1, 5-2 District 14) and Griggs County (6-8-3, 2-5 District 3).
Ryan begins pool play against Midkota and ORCS opens with North Border. Both matches are Friday.
9-Man Region 3 title up for grabs as TGU, North Star meet
Neither TGU coach Scott Thorson nor North Star coach Bryan Haugen will have trouble getting their teams focused when they take the field tonight at 7 at North Star.
The playoff ramification for this game is simple: win and earn the Region 3 title. North Star (6-0 overall, 6-0 region) looks to defend its share of last year's region title and earn at least two home playoff games. TGU (6-0, 6-0) seeks its first region title since 2003 and some revenge after North Star routed the Titans 52-18 last season.
"Not that the playoffs are easy by any means, but by getting that No. 1 seed it places you with more favorable matchups," TGU coach Scott Thorson said. "It would be nice to be a No. 1 seed compared to a No. 2 seed."
The TGU defense has the difficult task of trying to stop North Star's offense, which averages 48.3 points per game. Senior quarterback Jacob Hagler has thrown for 1,453 yards and 25 touchdowns, while senior running back Colton Braun has rushed for 488 yards and four touchdowns on 60 carries.
"I don't know if you can slow down (North Star's) offense," Thorson said. "From everything I've seen they're definitely elite as far as 9-man offense. You're not going to stop Hagler and Braun, but you're going to have to try and contain them."
Titans sophomore Eli Luna has proven so far this season that he can do a bit of everything. He has thrown for 708 yards and nine touchdowns, rushed for 341 yards and four touchdowns and kicked seven extra points.
"He's having a heck of a season and I haven't seen anyone yet slow him down," North Star coach Bryan Haugen said. "He's a guy you have to keep contained and that's going to be a big part of our defensive plan."
Teams punching playoff tickets
Football playoffs are right around the corner and, entering Friday's slate of games, six 9-man teams and two Class A teams have earned a spot in the postseason. No team from Class AA West Region has clinched a playoff berth, but that will change this weekend.
In 9-man Region 4, Divide County, Shiloh Christian and Central McLean have all advanced to the postseason, but none of the seeds have been decided.
Divide County controls its destiny to secure the No. 1 seed after beating Shiloh Christian last week. The Maroons host Central McLean on Friday, with the Cougars having an outside chance of winning the region. A Central McLean win, coupled with a Shiloh loss, would give the Cougars the region title.
New Rockford-Sheyenne is the only team from Region 2 to clinch a playoff spot and can win its first region title in program history with a victory over North Border.
Stanley-Powers Lake and Larimore are the lone teams from Class A that have made the playoffs. Both teams can win their respective region titles with a win Friday. Stanley-Powers Lake hosts Williams County and Larimore plays at Park River.