Looking for redemption

Last year’s District 12 tournament was a painful reminder for the Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood volleyball team of just how unpredictable the postseason can be.

The Mavericks upset Bishop Ryan in their first match before dropping into a region qualifier following a straight-set loss to Our Redeemer’s Christian School. M-L-S fell to Glenburn in five sets after rallying from a two-set hole, ending its season prematurely.

“It motivates them a lot because they were so close to region last year and they just missed it by a little bit,” first-year M-L-S coach Culynn Solloway said. “This year they really want to bring it home.”

M-L-S (21-8 overall, 7-0 district) is the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which begins Friday in Mohall. The Mavericks play eighth-seeded Surrey (9-21, 0-7) at 4 p.m. in the opening round.

The Mavericks boast nine seniors, the most in the district. Bishop Ryan and Berthold each have seven. M-L-S is undefeated against Region 6 opponents, winning five-setters against Bottineau, Kenmare and Des Lacs-Burlington. The Mavericks swept No. 2 seed ORCS and defeated No. 3 seed Ryan in four sets. Yet, M-L-S isn’t overlooking anyone.

“We’ve had some talks about it already and the girls have been doing a really good job at keeping a level head,” Solloway said. “They work really hard during practice, so they’ve been doing an awesome job keeping themselves in check. They know any team, especially some of those tougher teams we’ve been playing this year, can take it from us if they work just as hard as we do.”

Solloway has a number of options to choose from. Junior outside hitter Callie Carlson, senior outside hitter Sierra Smith and senior middle blocker Alex Mott provide a strong presence at the net. Senior setter Shania Brackenbury puts the offense in motion and classmates Skylar Aberle and Taylor Knutson handle the defensive duties.

“They are a great team,” ORCS coach Kara Nunziato said. “They have a lot of solid players. If you have all seniors, those girls are physically stronger and more developed. They are mentally stronger and they’ve played together for years. They have been very successful their senior year.”

Aside of their loss to M-L-S, the Knights (28-9, 6-1) won 17 of 18 sets played against district opponents. Ryan was the only team to take ORCS to a fourth set. The Knights play No. 7 seed Glenburn (15-15, 1-6) at approximately 6:30 p.m. Friday in their first-round match.

“It’s crunch time,” Nunziato said. “It’s time for the girls to play like they’ve been playing all year long. That’s our only expectation.”

With no seniors, ORCS looks to captains Gabi Boeckel, a junior, and Morgan Olson, a freshman. Boeckel and Olson have experience playing in the state, region and district tournaments.

“We have to remember that it’s a whole new game,” Boeckel said. “We have to come in there humble yet confident.”

The Knights could meet crosstown rival Ryan in the semifinals if the Lions (31-6, 5-2) get by No. 6 seed Kenmare (13-21, 2-5) in their first-round match. Ryan defeated the Honkers in five sets during the regular season.

“Tournament time is always a fun time,” Ryan senior Anika Rovig said. “It’s good for us to show teams all around the area that we’re here to get things done and hopefully just survive and advance.”

No. 4 seed DL-B (14-15, 4-3) plays No. 5 seed Berthold (18-12-1, 3-4) in the other first-round match.

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.