The four seniors on the Carrington volleyball team didn't want their careers to end with a third straight loss in the Region 4 championship match.
The heartbreak from the last two seasons was replaced by feelings of joy and relief after defeating Lakota-Edmore in four sets in the region title match on Nov. 14. As a result, the Cardinals (29-7) earned their first trip to the state tournament.
"Honestly, it's still kind of hard to believe," senior middle blocker Madison Wendel said. "We've been in the championship three times now. Being able to go to state is one of the greatest feelings in my life."
From left to right, Carrington seniors Madison Wendel, Page Anderson, Jacey Engelhorn and Kayla Hochhalter pose with the Region 4 championship trophy on Nov. 14 in Devils Lake. The No. 4-seeded Cardinals play Beulah in the first round of the Class B state tournament today. Photo courtesy of Sharon Boehmer.
Carrington - the No. 4 seed - plays Beulah at 8 tonight at the Minot State University Dome in its first-round match. The teams didn't meet during the regular season.
The Cardinals' trip to state included region tournament victories against teams they had lost to earlier in the year. Carrington defeated Harvey-Wells County in the semifinals less than two weeks removed from its opening-round loss to the Hornets in the District 7 tournament.
"No matter who comes and beats us, we're always going to fight," Wendel said. "We're not going to be afraid of a team if we play them a second or third time. We don't get affected by our losses and we use them to make us better for the next match."
The 6-foot Wendel leads the Cardinals in kills (388) and blocks (103) and is second in aces (72). Wendel and the other three seniors will be called on to settle the nerves of the younger players. Carrington coach Sharon Boehmer said jitters could be a determining factor.
"Teams that aren't ready to play will struggle getting momentum," she said. "Being nervous is a waste of time. Confidence is key. Staying confident in who you are and what got you here and adjusting are big parts of the sport."
Senior outside hitter Kayla Hochhalter has shown her versatility, leading the team in digs (256) and aces (82), while recorded 321 kills and 23 blocks. Senior outside hitter Jacey Engelhorn is second on the team in digs with 203 and third with 71 aces. Middle blocker Page Anderson has the high serve percentage of the four seniors at 90.7 percent.
"The seniors are the nucleus of the team," Boehmer said. "They're our go-to girls. Everyone contributes with their passing and setting, but our seniors are the ones that have gotten it done."
While the seniors have led the way, junior setter Brooke Rosenau has proved vital to Carrington's success. Rosenau has compiled 879 assists and has a 90.7 serve percentage.
The Cardinals' first trip to state has got the town buzzing with excitement and Carrington hopes to give the community more to celebrate.
"They've been really positive," Hochhalter said. "They've been really supportive and we'd like to thank them for what they've done for us."
Carrington is one of three teams making its state tournament debut today.
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.