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Jays ready for Red River

Sun file photo / John M. Steiner Meghan Orr plays the ball as Julina Niemeier (14) and Jenna Stilwell look on. The Blue Jays open state-tournament play against Grand Forks Red River today at 2 p.m. at the Minot State Dome.

Jamestown volleyball coach Sara Hegerle considered going to a Grand Forks Red River match earlier this season, but talked herself out of it.

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Now, she’s shaking her head.

The only Class A team in the entire state that Hegerle has not watched in person will be the Blue Jays’ opening-round opponent at the state tournament. Jamestown (32-4) meets Red River in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Minot State Dome.

“I know they graduated almost every starter,” said Hegerle, referring to the Roughriders’ state runner-up team. “I know they’re young and I know they’ve struggled this year. But they have a great coach, and she seems to put things together.”

At first glance, Red River and its 18-13 record don’t appear too scary. But the Blue Jays beat West Fargo in the regular season last year, only to get swept by the Packers in the state quarterfinals.

“And there’s been plenty of people that have reminded our kids about that,” Hegerle said. “That (JHS) team did great things and I won’t take anything away from that. They got us to a whole other level. But it was our first year at state and there were some nerves. Now, we know what to expect with our schedule and the facility.”

It’s the first time in the history of Jamestown’s volleyball program that it’s gone to state in back-to-back years. It’s only the fourth appearance overall (1999, 2001, 2012).

The Blue Jays are coming off a disheartening five-set loss to Bismarck St. Mary’s in the West Region tournament championship match. They lost a couple of close ones 25-23 and 25-22 to start the match, but throttled the Saints 25-13, 25-12 in the next two.

A 15-13 setback in the deciding set meant St. Mary’s halted the Blue Jays’ 24-match winning streak. It was the first win over Jamestown for the Saints in four tries this season.

“I was a little concerned; there were lots of tears and shocked looks on faces,” Hegerle said. “But we regrouped (Monday). I felt like they had a lot of fire in them.”

Along with seniors Addie Eamon, McKayla Orr and Josie Hegerle, the team has utilized a big junior class to fill necessary holes. Ten of the 14 varsity players are juniors, a group that is led by Jenna Stilwell, McKayla Keller, Julina Niemeier, Beka Hilgemann and Rainey Selvig.

“We’re so lucky that we have all those kids back next year,” Hegerle said. “We’ve got a lot of great kids coming back.”

Jamestown statistics

Kills: Addie Eamon 383, Jenna Stilwell 226, McKayla Keller 163, Josie Hegerle 130, Beka Hilgemann 117, Rainey Selvig 95.

Assists: Hegerle 818, McKayla Orr 42.

Aces: Julina Niemeier 62, Keller 44, Stilwell 36, Hegerle 36, Meghan Orr 20.

Blocks: Eamon 71, Hegerle 47, Stilwell 34, Selvig 15, Keller 15, Hilgemann 11.

Digs: McKayla Orr 580, Niemeier 329, Keller 307, Meghan Orr 298, Hegerle 222, Stilwell 123, Hilgemann 88.

Sun sportswriter Chris Aarhus can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or