Ray High School standout Kendra Heier isn't oblivious of her club's diminutive stature.
When the Jays lock up with Park River-Fordville-Lankin tonight at 6 in the first round of the Class B state volleyball tournament at Minot State University, Heier and her cohorts will be considerably smaller than the squad across the net.
"We're pretty short, but we work together really well," Heier said. "(PR-F-L) is kinda tall, so if we can get our hands up and get a few blocks we should be OK."
Ray High School senior Kendra Heier goes up for a kill during a match against Tioga earlier this season. Photo courtesy of David Tengesdal.
Not that Ray, which brings a 36-2-1 mark into the program's eighth state tournament, was ever hindered by its lack of trees.
The Jays rolled through Region 8 with a group that hung its hat on defense, passing and athleticism at the net. But what ultimately helped Ray punch its first ticket to state since 2007 was its experience.
Heier - the 5-foot-9 outside hitter who's started since the eighth grade - and fellow seniors Olivia Corcoran (MH) and Kendra Perdue (OH) spearheaded the Jays' regional dominance this fall.
If Michelle Dolan's learned one thing during her successful quarter-century stint as Ray's coach, it's that a seasoned group is capable of a trophy run.
"There's a lot of experience on this team," said Dolan, who's highest finish was runner-up back in 1995. "This is is a good, hard-working group of girls and they've done an outstanding job."
The five-year state tournament drought had felt like a decade's void for Ray with district rival Stanley (the 2011 Class B runner-up) serving as the Jays' roadblock. This fall, however, Ray dispatched the Blue Jays in sweeping fashion and downed Watford City to earn a state berth.
Now the Jays are looking to get past an unfamiliar foe.
PR-F-L is in its third state tournament in four seasons and also returns a grip of starters from a year ago, when it bowed out at the Region 2 tournament. It was also without the services of Carly Myrdal, an all-district setter in 2010 before before tearing her ACL at the onset of the 2011 season.
Myrdal's return has helped pace the Aggies (29-9), who also rely on the up-front efforts of outside hitter Kirsten Johnson (407 kills).
"I know (PR-F-L) comes out of a traditionally tough region," Dolan said. "There's a pretty level group of teams this year. Whoever strings together three solid matches can win it. I can't pick a powerhouse out of the group."
Heier, playing in her first state tournament in an aberrant five-year tenure, hopes to end her prep career gripping hardware.
"It would mean a lot to us," Heier said. "(The seniors) are hoping to end our careers with a big hit.' "