Posted 8/25/15 (Tue)
By Jody Michael
High school volleyball practice in North Dakota began last week, as some have their first contests as soon as this weekend.
Coaches in District 16 said they expect this corner of the state to be flush with volleyball talent. The Ray Jays look to defend their regular-season and region-tourney titles, while Kenmare is the reigning district champion.
The Jays were a surprise region champion last year with a relatively young roster.
“We have a little bit more experience this time around,” head coach Michelle Dolan said.
“The young ones improved a lot last year, but I don’t want them to level off,” she said.
Dolan said she has not quite set her starting lineup yet as she considers how to best adapt to the graduation of an all-district setter and middle hitter.
“The main concern is, can we play consistently enough?” she said. “Can we keep improving?”
The Jays travel Saturday to a season-opening tournament in Hazen and Beulah. Their first home match is Sept. 3 against Tioga.
Head coach Landon Nichols said the Pirates’ team morale is far higher than their winless season last year might suggest.
“They have the best attitude they’ve had since I’ve been coaching them,” said Nichols, in his third year. “They have a great work ethic.”
With nowhere to go but up, Nichols said the key to improvement will be to play smarter more than anything else.
“I’d like to see better teamwork,” he said. “They need to make better decisions based on the scenario.”
Tioga will appear in a Bottineau tournament Saturday, the start of a long stretch of travel to open the season. The school just rescheduled two early home matches while awating installation of a new gym floor.
The Sept. 1 match vs. Glenburn has moved to Oct. 5, and the Sept. 17 match vs. Burke County will now be Oct. 12.
This makes the Pirates’ new home opener a Sept. 24 date vs. Kenmare.
Nichols and Dolan both identified Stanley and Powers Lake as teams that should once again be strong district contenders.
“Powers Lake and Stanley will still be tough,” Nichols said.
The Ranchers return everyone from last year’s team, which finished as runner-up to Ray in the region tournament.
Dolan said a second-consecutive state tournament appearance for the Jays is far from a guarantee in a region so competitive.
“Stanley is always tough, and Powers Lake didn’t lose anybody,” she said. “We know Watford City will probably have a lot of tall people. They should be good.”