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Tom Mix, Published November 20 2013

After ending state tournament drought, Northern Cass sets sights on title

Hunter, N.D. - Before the key to the gym door was turned for the first time back in late August, the Northern Cass volleyball team had its sights set on the state tournament in Minot.

The Jaguars had a varsity roster that featured eight seniors and plenty of returning talent from last year’s squad that got as far as the Region 1 semifinals.

Expectations were high.

Simply, it was state or bust for Northern Cass, which until last Thursday had never sent a volleyball team to the North Dakota Class B state tournament.

The Jaguars officially booked their trip to Minot by defeating Central Cass 3-2 in the Region 1 championship.

“At the beginning of the season, getting to the state tournament was something the girls knew we could do, and I think had we not qualified, it would have been a pretty big disappointment,” Northern Cass head coach Tom Klapp said. “We have known we had the ability to get to state the whole year.”

A day after defeating the Squirrels, Northern Cass (30-4-2) was seeded No. 1 and was paired against Region 6 champions Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood (26-9) in a 6 p.m. quarterfinals match set for today at the Minot State Dome.

“The first day of practice we made it a team goal to get to the state tournament, but we have a new goal now that we have made it,” said senior outside hitter Vanessa Johnson, who leads the Jaguars in kills with 448 kills. “We are not going just to go. We want to win it.”

First-time qualifiers have won Class B championships before, and it happened last fall when Kindred capped a dream season with a title.

The Jaguars’ path to state was a challenging one playing in both a district and region that features Central Cass, Fargo Oak Grove and Kindred. All three of those teams finished the season with 26 wins or more. Senior setter Brianna Olson said that competition made the Jaguars a tougher team.

“I feel that we have already played some of the best teams in the state like Fargo Oak Grove, Kindred and Central Cass,” said Olson, who has posted 907 assists. “Our team is definitely confident, and we are just looking to be the champions right now.”

“We are looking forward to the state tournament and knowing that we have already defeated some of the best teams in the state like Central Cass, we definitely feel like we have a great chance to be state champions,” Johnson added.

In addition to Johnson, seniors Paige Verwest and Cassie Hilde and junior Erin McDonald make up the Jaguars’ front row attack.

Verwest is second on the team in kills with 286. McDonald and Hilde have added 267 and 146 kills, respectively.

“Our offense is very powerful, but I feel it all starts with our defense,” Klapp said. “We need to make good passes, and if we do that, everything will take care of itself.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562