When five Bismarck Century High School volleyball starters graduated after the 2011 season, the program simply reloaded.
The Patriots (33-4) continued a winning tradition that has them entering today's Class A state tournament at the Minot State University Dome poised for a fourth championship-match appearance in five years.
Century won its last 14 regular-season West Region matchups, dropped just eight sets in that span and dominated the region tournament, losing one game in three matches. Winning the school's first state title in four years is firmly on the mind of Patriots co-coach Jamie Zastoupil.
Bismarck Century senior Hannah Larson sets the ball during a match earlier this season. Photo courtesy of The Bismarck Tribune.
"One thing I remember so well about the 2008 team was their camaraderie, how well they got along on and off the court, how hard they worked together," said Zastoupil, who was an assistant when Century won it all in 2008. "We have a very competitive atmosphere. That's the same way it was in 2008."
The Patriot offense is led by the region's senior athlete of the year, Hannah Larson. Larson has a team-high 388 kills this season and was an all-tournament performer at state last year. She had 10 kills in the region final against Jamestown.
"She has kinda been a silent leader for us," Zastoupil said. "She didn't have to be a real big leader for us in the past few years because our teams have been so good. This year she's really stepped up as that leader."
Class A Tournament at a Glance
West No. 1 Bismarck Century - Century has lost a state-low four matches this year. The Patriots have appeared in three of the last four state-championship matches, winning the title in 2008.
East No. 1 Grand Forks Red River - Red River has appeared in three straight championship matches. The Roughriders won titles in 2009 and 2011 and are led by last season's North Dakota Gatorade player of the year, Hadley Steffen. Steffen, a senior outside hitter, has 426 kills this year.
East No. 3 West Fargo - The Packers have lost 14 matches, more than any team in the tournament. West Fargo finished fifth in the East Region in the regular season but swept Wahpeton to qualify.
East No. 4 Fargo Davies - In its second year of existence, Davies is making its first-ever state tournament appearance. The Eagles swept Fargo North, the East's No. 3 team in the regular season, to advance to state.
Addie Eamon, Jamestown - 40 kills in West Region tournament
Hadley Steffen, Grand Forks Red River - 40 kills in last two matches
Hannah Larson, Bismarck Century - 33 kills in West Region tournament
McKenzie Kiefer, Bismarck - 110 assists in West Region tournament
Abby Grove, Dickinson - 38 kills in West Region tournament
If a West Region team is going to get in the way of a Century championship, it might be Jamestown (26-9). The Blue Jays return to state after an 11-year absence and after a heartbreaking region tournament last year.
In 2011, Jamestown was the West's No. 3 seed. Then the Blue Jays were upset twice and eliminated from state consideration. This time around, Jamestown took care of business, beating Minot and Dickinson to appear in the title match.
Things quickly went awry in the region championship, when Century dismantled the Blue Jays (25-21, 25-12, 25-8) in three sets.
"On Friday night at the WDA tournament, it was the best I've seen our team play all year," JHS coach Sara Hegerle said. "The next day we turn around and play the worst I've seen our team play all year. It was like frosting on the cake (having already clinched a trip to state) but I don't think we were ready to play. I don't think it's going to carry over."
The Jamestown offense relies on junior middle blocker Addie Eamon, who leads the team with 313 kills this season. Junior libero McKayla Orr, an all-state performer last year, is the Blue Jays' defensive leader with 628 digs.
Jamestown plays East Region No. 3 West Fargo at 2 p.m. The Blue Jays swept the Packers in two sets in an early-season tournament. Century plays East Region No. 4 Fargo Davies, a team that beat the Patriots 2-1 in a tournament, at 6 p.m.
Defending state champion Grand Forks Red River plays West Region No. 4 Bismarck High at noon.