JONES: Knights are the clear favorite for Class B title

I will readily admit that I have never played a single game of competitive volleyball in my life, but over the years, I’ve watched enough matches to know what I’m talking about.

As the Our Redeemer’s Christian School Knights head into the 2015 Class B state tournament – which begins today at the Minot State Dome – they’re looking for the school’s first-ever state title. Along those same lines, I have covered high school sports in North Dakota for nearly seven years, and I have yet to cover a state champion.

Is this the year it ends for both of us?

I’m not sure, but the school in question certainly hopes this will be the year.

The Knights (40-2) are clearly the team to beat at this weekend’s tournament. And as the No. 1 seed, ORCS has as much pressure on its back as any team, but as a team that has played with a target on its back all season, the Knights handle pressure well.

ORCS has flirted with a state title in recent years. The Knights finished third last season, and fifth at the 2012 state tournament. Their best finish was a second-place effort in 2004.

After years of frustration and disappointment, I believe this could be the year for ORCS.

The Knights open the tournament against the Ray Jays, a team ORCS is very familiar with. In addition to sweeping the Jays in the opening round of the 2014 state tournament, ORCS also knocked off the Jays in three games in the regular-season finale on Oct. 19 in MInot.

Every time I watch the Knights play, I learn something new about the team.

They play at a level that’s hard to match by almost any team in the state, including some Class A schools. The Knights make even good teams look down at times. Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers, which is a state-tournament worthy team in its own right, was the Knights’ biggest rival this season, and even the Lakers had no answer for their Region 6 rival. To the Lakers’ credit, however, they were the only North Dakota team to beat ORCS this season – at the Laker Invitational on Oct. 4.

As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and the Knights excel in that area probably more so than any other team I’ve seen all year.

In their region-title victory over DL-B, the Knights’ ability to keep the ball in play is uncanny. Team statistics from that match say the Knights finished with 53 digs for the match, but that number seemed pretty low to me. Nearly all of DL-B’s attacks failed as Lauren Hendrickson, Morgan Olson, Ryleigh Popinga and Tessa Olson always seemed to get their hands on the ball.

Offensively, the Knights kill the ball harder than any team I’ve seen in recent years. Cara Steede and Popinga, who in my opinion were the co-MVPs of the Region 6 tournament, are second and third on the team in kills for the season with 246 and 208, respectively. If the Knights are to be upended, it will be because a team can figure out a way to pick up hits from Morgan Olson, Steede and Popinga.

But that’s easier said than done. Those three players are simply too good. And the scary thing is, Steede is a freshman and Popinga is a sophomore.

The bottom line is that the Knights are the clear favorites this weekend. In pursuit of a state title, all other teams will have to go through them.

This is the opinion of Mark Jones, a Minot Daily News staff writer. Mark covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @hoopsfan27_MDN.