It's been a surreal week for the Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood volleyball team.
It started last Thursday with a five-set victory over Bishop Ryan in the Region 6 championship match to send the Mavericks to their first state tournament in program history.
In the days since, M-L-S has become the talk of the town. The Mavericks received a welcome-home parade following their region title and have been congratulated by seemingly everyone in the community and surrounding areas.
Members of the Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood volleyball team hoist the Region 6 championship trophy after defeating Bishop Ryan in the title match at the Minot Municipal Auditorium last week
"It's been amazing," junior outside hitter Callie Carlson said. "It's so cool being part of a small community because everybody gets so into it. Everybody's been so supportive. We've been working really hard in practice and we're excited to go to state."
Now, it's back to work for M-L-S, which plays top-seeded Northern Cass (30-6) from Region 1 at 6 tonight at the Minot State University Dome. The Jaguars defeated defending state champion Kindred before claiming the region title in a five-set victory over Central Cass.
The Mavericks admitted they don't know much about their first-round opponent other than they are scrappy and have some strong hitters. Therefore, M-L-S first-year coach Culynn Solloway said all her team can do is focus on itself.
"All we're going to do is fine-tune mistakes that we've had happen continously on our side and be ready for strong hitters and strong servers that we have seen come out of the other regions," she said. "We're just doing the best we can to prepare ourselves by fixing the mistakes on our side and playing our game."
Nerves are sure to come into play early for both teams as both programs are making their first appearances at state. Region 1 has been dominated by Central Cass over the years and Kenmare has made a habit of representing Region 6.
"The girls, mentally, are ready for it," Solloway said. "They were nervous for the Minot Auditorium for regionals because they didn't know how that was going to play out and how much that was going to affect them. They've gotten that out of their heads now that they've played that big stage at regionals. At this point they're playing for themselves and are ready to go and play their best at state."
Both teams are senior-loaded. The Mavericks boast nine seniors including starters Alex Mott, Skylar Aberle, Shania Brackenbury, Sierra Smith, Krystal Girard and Shelbi Bahl, and the Jaguars sport eight.
Northern Cass has size up front with 6-foot senior middle blocker Cassie Hilde and 5-10 middle blocker Erin McDonald, but hitting around tall blocks is nothing new for M-L-S. The Mavericks had to go around Bishop Ryan's 6-2 junior middle blockers Hannah Stewart and Gabbie Bohl to get to state. As for the Jaguars' scrappiness, M-L-S saw that in district matches with Our Redeemer's Christian School and Des Lacs-Burlington.
"I believe we have a really tough region," Carlson said. "Even our district with the district sweep that happened at the region tournament shows that any team on any given day can beat someone so you have to be prepared and on top of your game all the time."
Solloway believes that the state tournament is wide open and regardless of how the Mavericks fare, it's been a special season for her team.
"I told the girls before that last game at regionals that no matter the outcome for the rest of the season, this is not a season to hang your heads over," she said. "There's nothing disappointing about our season.
"Everything has been phenomanal for us so regardless of how the state outcome goes - obviously we hope we come out pretty high in the state tournament - there's nothing to be disappointed about with these girls. These girls have played their hearts out and they've played their game and they've been on top of their game all season."
Mott echoed her coach's sentiments.
"Our season was the meal and the state tournament is now the dessert," she said.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot State University men's club hockey team and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.