If two months of matches and district tournaments have revealed anything, it's that there is no clear-cut favorite to win the Region 6 tournament, which begins at 3 p.m. today at the Minot Municipal Auditorium.
Among the eight-team field, half are contenders for the region title and a state tournament berth. No. 1 seeds Bishop Ryan and Bottineau spearhead the frontrunners after winning their respective district tournaments. The District 12 Lions defeated Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood in five sets and the District 11 Stars toppled Velva in straight sets.
"There are four or five teams that stick out," Bottineau coach Steve Dunrud said. "You could probably throw those four or five teams' names in a hat and shake it up and draw one out as a champion and do it five different times and have a different champion each time. There's going to be some really good matchups."
Bishop Ryan’s Anika Rovig (12), Gabbie Bohl (24), Maddie Lipp (7) and Maddie Wald celebrate a point against Beulah earlier this year. The Lions are a No. 1 seed in the Region 6 tournament.
The Stars (26-7) play Des Lacs-Burlington (16-16) in the first round. Bottineau was 1-3 against District 12's top three teams, but won its other two matches against the rest of the district, including a sweep of DL-B to open the season.
The Lions (34-6) turned their volleyball program into a region contender four years removed from failing to advance out of the district. Ryan hopes to advance past the first round after being eliminated by Bottineau each of the last three seasons. The Lions play Rugby (15-18) in the first round.
"Obviously it's nice to get the one seed and just knowing we can beat Our Redeemer's and Mohall," Ryan senior Anika Rovig said, "It's a confidence boost for our team."
Ryan avenged regular-season losses to ORCS and M-L-S in the district tournament.
The Mavericks (23-9) haven't forgotten that loss to the Lions in the district championship on their home court. But the disappointment of defeat quickly turned into renewed determination.
"They've been even more driven since that loss," M-L-S coach Culynn Solloway said. "We were going to take a day off from practice and the girls said they didn't want to and that they wanted to go in and practice anyway. They're pretty driven right now to get some more wins."
M-L-S plays its first region game since 2011 against TGU (10-19).
The Mavericks' roster includes the most seniors (9) of any team in the region tournament. In total, 37 seniors look to prolong their volleyball careers. Among the 37 seniors, none belong to Our Redeemer's. The Knights - comprised of four juniors, one sophomore, five freshman, and two eighth-graders - have a much different look than the team that won its first region title since 2004 last year. Yet, ORCS is a contender.
"I just hope the girls come out and play to what they're capable of and don't let what's on the other side intimidate them," ORCS coach Kara Nunziato said. "That they just do what they've done up until this point, which is just have fun playing volleyball. Because they are all back next year, I want them to think of this as an experience that they can learn from and grow from and just be proud of."
The Knights (30-10) draw District 11 runner-up Velva (15-17) and its six seniors in the first round. ORCS won its only matchup with the Aggies in straight sets in the season opener for both teams.
District 12 had the upper hand on District 11 during the regular season. The top four District 12 teams were 11-2 against the top four from District 11. But Solloway said M-L-S won't overlook anyone.
"Our girls want to make sure they don't underestimate that district," Solloway said. "We're treating them like they play at the same level as our girls in our district. We're going to treat them like they play like Ryan or Our Redeemer's and they can beat us if they tried hard, so we're going to go out and treat them like we've treated everyone else."
Ryan, M-L-S, ORCS and DL-B enter the tournament with a combined winning percentage of .715, while Bottineau, Velva, TGU and Rugby come in at .520.
"District 12 is really strong this year," Dunrud said. "They have a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. They play the game the right way."
No team in the region is hotter right now than North Star (31-2). The No. 1 seed from District 8 has won 11 straight matches and avenged its only non-tournament loss in a five-set victory against Langdon in the district championship.
Junior middle hitter Sarah Hagler has led the Bearcats' offense in recent weeks, recording three consecutive 20-plus kill performances in victories against Carrington, M-L-S and Rolla.
The Bearcats draw New Rockford-Sheyenne (16-17) in the first round Monday at Devils Lake. North Star defeated District 7's No. 4 seed in straight sets earlier this season.
Defending region champion Langdon (22-8) is the No. 2 seed from District 8 and plays Carrington (26-7) in its first-round match. Langdon is undefeated against the four District 7 representatives.
Harvey-Wells County (24-7) and Lakota-Adams-Edmore (22-8) are the top two seeds from District 7.
Grant County (26-4) and Underwood (20-8) are the No. 1 seeds and Flasher (9-25-1) is the defending region champion.
Grant County rolled by Flasher and region-host Shiloh Christian in straight sets in the District 9 tournament, while Underwood did the same to Center-Stanton (12-25) and Turtle Lake-Mercer-McClusky (14-19) in District 10. The Coyotes got the better of the Comets in two regular-season matches.
TL-M-M and Shiloh Christian (16-21) were runners-up in their respective district tournaments.
District 13 and 14 combined into a super regional this year, and all 12 teams qualified for the region tournament, which began Friday with four play-in matches. Richardton-Taylor, New England, Hettinger-Scranton and Heart River advanced to today's quarterfinal round in Dickinson.
Beach (32-4) earned the top seed after an undefeated season in the region. The Buccaneers' stiffest test came against Heart River - their quarterfinal opponent. Beach won in five sets Tuesday.
Dickinson Trinity (20-14), Hazen (21-17-1) and Beulah (23-12) round out the top four seeds. All three won their regular-season matches against their opening-round foe. The Miners enter the tournament having won 8 of 9, the only hiccup coming against Bishop Ryan.
The Bison had won five straight matches before being swept by Beulah in their regular-season finale Tuesday.
Dickinson Trinity is the defending region champion.
Ray (29-7) posted its first victory against Stanley (29-10) this season in the District 16 championship and grabbed the No. 1 seed. Watford City (12-14) is the No. 1 seed from District 15.
Ray and Stanley will most likely meet one final time this year in the title game as District 15 teams are a combined 34-57-1. The top two teams in District 16 are 58-17. The Jays are the defending region champion and play Trenton (6-15) in the first round. The Blue Jays take on Parshall (6-13).
Divide County (14-12) upset Stanley in the region semifinals last year, but the two are on opposite sides of the bracket this year. The Maroons are the No. 3 seed from District 16 and play Trinity Christian (10-13-1) in the first round.
The region tournament is in Tioga.
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.