A second straight season with the state tournament in the Magic City offers redemption for the returning players on the Minot High School volleyball team.
The Majettes failed to advance out of the West Region tournament in 2012.
"It was hard because it was, like, in our hometown and stuff," senior co-captain Ashley Gathman said, "but it was also, like, an awakening for the girls that got to come back this year to push even harder."
Minot High School senior Jayden Moum bumps the ball during practice at Magic City
Campus on Tuesday.
Gathman is one of six seniors for third-year coach Ellen Jebens. The Majettes made it to state in Jebens' first year and hope to make that a trend despite last year's setback. MHS lost five starters, but the program is seeing strong interest. The varsity and junior varsity squads have just one underclassman among 22 players. An additional 36 girls are on the sophomore and freshman teams.
"We think they're gonna be pretty tough this year," Jebens said. "We're gonna be fast and scrappy."
The Magicians lost height and experience in graduated zmiddle blockers Alex Bolinske and Morgan Milbrath. Junior track standout Sophie Bengson decided not to play this season.
Senior co-captain Jayden Moum, Gathman and junior Brooke Suko return to starting roles.
Gathman is the team's setter and fits the pivotal role well.
"She hustles to the ball," Jebens said. "She won't give up on a ball and her experience, I mean, she sees the game better this year than ever before. She's just the leader on the floor. She controls the offense."
Jebens declined to disclose a concrete starting lineup ahead of the season-opening invitational at Century on Friday and Saturday, but expects juniors Melora Haagenson and Kaitlyn Stenberg to play significant time.
Suko and Moum provide experience as outside hitters and Gathman expects a variety of players to play tough defense in the back.
"(Seniors) Carson Held, Trista Jackson and (senior MaKaila Anderson) are our main back row girls and they are basically gonna hold up our back row, so it'll be really good."
Jebens and Gathman expect Century and Jamestown to be the toughest opponents in the West Region.
"Century's the returning state champion and they'll be tough like they always are," Jebens said. "Jamestown, I expect to be at the top. They just have a lot of returning quality players and I think everybody else is gonna be right in the mix."
To hang with the top teams, MHS will need to improve its communication.
"We had a pretty good athletic group (last year), but we just didn't know how to communicate right," Gathman said. "We were really good chemistry-wise, we just didn't put it into the game the right way."
The Majettes will see where they stand around the state with three matches Friday and three Saturday. Friday's play begins with a 4:15 p.m. start against Shanley. All six opponents in the first weekend will be from the East Region.
MHS remains on the road for its first West Region match against Century on Tuesday. The Majettes' first home match is Sept. 10 against Mandan, the only team they'll face at home in September. MHS plays six times at home in October. The West Region tournament will be in Jamestown. Two wins there will put MHS back in the state tournament and in a comfortable home setting.
"Seeing all the seniors upset about how they (didn't) get to go to state their senior year really motivates me because I want to be there my senior year," Moum said.
UPDATE: This article was changed to correctly state MaKaila Anderson's academic year and the date of the team's first home match.