For seven straight years, the Our Redeemer's Christian School volleyball team saw its season end in the Region 6 tournament.
Not this time.
The Knights blew through the region tournament last week, sweeping Rugby, Velva and Bottineau. ORCS plays Region 4 champion Langdon in the first round of the Class B state tournament at 8 tonight at the Minot State University Dome. The Knights have not dropped a set since being swept by Kenmare in the District 12 championship match.
Our Redeemer’s Christian School senior middle hitter Emily VanLith spikes the ball past Bottineau senior Katryna Hahn during the Region 6 championship match on Nov. 8.
"It's so much work to get here," ORCS coach Sherry Carlson said. "I'm not saying that other regions aren't tough, but our region is tough. We had great teams this year. It could have been anyone (advancing to state). But these girls pulled it together at a time when they really needed to."
Senior outside hitter Ashley Koppinger the District 12 and Region 6 senior athlete of the year and with seniors Emily VanLith and Billie Bangen are no strangers to the stat sheet. But there are other members of the team whose contributions may go unnoticed.
Junior setter Brooke Knutson and sophomore outside hitter Gabi Boeckel have quietly helped the Knights reach their ultimate goal of a state berth. Knutson shares the setter role with eighth-grader Morgan Olson and averaged 13.3 assists per match in the region tournament.
Class B Tournament at a Glance
Ray Jays - The Ray volleyball team cruised through both the District 16 and Region 8 tournaments, sweeping all five of its matches. The Jays (36-2-1 overall) haven't dropped a set since Oct. 6 against Bishop Ryan in the Laker Invitational.
Our Redeemer's Christian School Knights - After being swept by Kenmare in the District 12 championship match, ORCS swept its three region matches to earn its first state appearance since 2004. The Knights played 46 matches this season, winning 34.
Park River-Fordville-Lankin Aggies - The Aggies (29-9) have won their last 10 matches, highlighted by five-set victory over Hatton-Northwood in the Region 2 championship match.
Langdon Cardinals - Langdon slipped by Carrington in five sets to capture the Region 4 title and remain unbeaten in its last 11 matches. The Cardinals (24-4-3) haven't lost since the Laker Invitational on Oct. 6.
Kindred Vikings - Region 1 produced last year's state champion with Central Cass, but the region's top-seeded Squirrels fell in the semifinals to Oak Grove. Despite losing two of the first three matchups with Oak Grove, Kindred (31-10) swept the Grovers in the region championship match.
Flasher Bulldogs - Flasher took advantage of upsets to punch its ticket to the state tournament as the Region 5 representative. District 10's top seed lost in the opening round and District 9's No. 1 team fell in the semifinals. The Bulldogs (28-9-3) dropped just one set in the region tournament.
Abbey Braaten, Langdon - Braaten finished the Region 4 tournament with 65 kills, including 27 in the championship match against Carrington.
Alyson Schieno, Trinity - Schieno dominated in the championship match against Beulah, recording 25 kills and 32 assists. Schieno had 21 kills against Heart River.
Ashley Koppinger, ORCS - The region's senior athlete of the year compiled 44 kills in three matches.
Brenna Downs, Langdon - Downs jump-started Langdon's offense during the Region 4 tournament, finishing with 99 assists in three matches.
Haley Hodenfield, Ray - Hodenfield totaled 81 assists in the Region 8 tournament.
"It's kind of like being the quarterback, so I've been told," Knutson said. "I get a touch on every play. I have to be ready to go and have a clear mind."
Knutson and Olson are responsible for setting up the offense with precise passes to the team's hitters. Most of Koppinger's team-leading kills come from communication with the two setters.
"It's pretty much everything," Knutson said. "If you're not talking out there you don't know where your teammates are or who needs the ball or wants the ball."
While Koppinger, VanLith and Bangen control the front of the net, Boeckel plays exclusively in the back row. Although listed as an outside hitter, Boeckel serves as more of a defensive specialist, digging out spikes from opposing hitters. Boeckel had eight digs in the region quarterfinals against Rugby.
"It's a cool experience just to be able to be a part of this," Boeckel said. "At the beginning of the season I couldn't have imagined it, but it's pretty cool being here."
No current player on the roster has experience playing in the state tournament, but the coaching staff has witnessed it firsthand.
Carlson coached the 2004 squad that finished runners up to Thompson. Among those on the team was Brittany Jacobsen, who currently serves as an assistant coach with the Knights. Jacobsen's team also defeated Bottineau in the region championship match and played Langdon at state. Both Carlson and Jacobsen believe that their experience is an advantage.
"Being there and being in that environment, having that mindset that you've been there, you can offer encouragement as best as you can to the girls," Jacobsen said.
Said Carlson: "They have that perspective of what it's like to be at state when you're at a small school and your opportunities are pretty tough to come by. They help keep the kids focused and encouraged."
Jacobsen said the 2012 team is a bit more athletic than the 2004 squad and the Knights' mental toughness has greatly improved during the second half of the season.
ORCS' quarterfinal match against Langdon will be the second time the two have met this season. The first came in pool play at the Laker Invitational with each team winning a set. Langdon has won two titles since 2008.
Regardless of the outcome, Carlson is proud of what the Knights have accomplished this season.
"Just to see them set state as a goal and regardless of our down times, they haven't lost sight of it," she said. "They decided that's what they wanted and they stuck to it."