Watford City is back in Class AA, exactly where coach Fred Fridley says they belong.
The No. 5 Wolves trounced Heart River, Century's junior varsity and fellow West Region newcomer Stanley-Powers Lake to open the season, posting a 25.7-point average margin of victory.
"We expected to be pretty good," Fridley said. "We returned a lot of starters from a year ago. Just looking at our schedule, I felt that we certainly would be 3-0 at this point in the season."
Soon, the Wolves face the thick of their schedule.
After a West Region contest Friday at Griggs-Barnes County, Watford City hosts top-ranked Bishop Ryan next week and travels to No. 2 St. Mary's the week after.
Fridley, in his 42nd year as head coach, has led the Wolves to nine state titles, including three in Class AA since its inception in 1997. He said the impending challenge of facing the state's top two teams in consecutive weeks is exactly what Watford City signed up for.
"We feel that we can be competitive in this league," Fridley said. "We were second in our (Class A) league last year, but 50 percent of our starters were sophomores a year ago. It was a good move for us."
The Wolves' preseason depth chart featured a logjam at tight end and receiver, prompting Fridley to shuffle his lineup. He elected to move senior Brandon Allex from wideout to running back and junior Logan Fettig from tight end to offensive line.
The result? A superb ground attack.
The Wolves average 306.7 rushing yards per game. Allex racked up 163 yards last week against Stanley-Powers Lake and has 365 yards on 40 carries this season.
"(Allex) has the quickness we look for in the backfield and he is able to read his blocks well," Fridley said. "It seems like whenever he gets hit, he always gets some extra yards."
Junior quarterback Keegan Thompson missed the first two games because of a rule infraction, which left junior backup Bo Cook to fill in.
Fridley said Cook has been a "big surprise" and that he may keep him under center permanently, which would allow Thompson to split time in the backfield.
The Wolves still need work on their passing attack and kicking game, but Fridley is encouraged by their hot start. And their youth.
"We're still really young," he said. "We do have a lot of experience, but we are really young."
Something old, something new
Freshman middle blocker Macey Kvilvang has been a welcome addition for North Star coach Marla Hagler.
The 6-foot-2 Kvilvang and a strong core of returning talent have the Bearcats off to a 10-0 start.
"Experience, talent and new talent is what's been working for us," Hagler said.
North Star is 5-0 in regular-season matches and didn't drop a set throughout five matches on Sept. 7 en route to the Bottineau Early Bird Tournament title.
"I didn't know how that was going to go because I didn't know a lot about the teams (in the tournament), so that was a nice surprise," Hagler said. "I knew that we had the potential to finish at the top."
Hagler said winning the early-season tourney built confidence, but the Bearcats' "true tests" come in October, when district and region play heats up.
Junior Sarah Hagler, Marla's daughter, has a team-best 76 kills in regular-season play and a whopping 5.06 kills per set average. Sarah Hagler and senior Allie Heisler lead North Star in digs. Marla Hagler said Heisler, who is also second in kills and leads the team in aces, does a little bit of everything.
"She also sets from the back row and is just an all-around great player," Hagler said.
Kvilvang is a capable hitter and is tops on the team in blocks, but Hagler said her potential is most impressive.
"We see improvement literally weekly with her," she said. "I'm looking for big things to come from her the rest of the season."
According to Hagler, Kvilvang is far from peaking and so is her team.
"I think we'll get even stronger," Hagler said.
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.