Senior Strong: Jamestown's six seniors leading Jays to state
Jamestown High School's senior volleyball players would have made a pretty salty team in their own right this season.
Between all-state performers at setter and libero, a pair of reliable front-row attackers, a solid defensive specialist and a jack-of-all-trades, who'd want to face them? Jamestown coach Sara Hegerle asked herself that question Tuesday at the high school.
"What I was thinking about today was how those six seniors could make their own team," Hegerle said. "They have all the pieces of a good one: the passing, the defending, the setting, the hitting.
"Put those six up against any team around this region and I think they would do pretty well. It's in their heart, and their heart has been in this program."
Seniors Megan Gaffaney, Hannah Schiele, Alyssa Ukestad, McKayla Kurtz, Jordan Paulson and Olivia Nihill will play one final tournament as Blue Jays starting tomorrow at the Fargodome. Jamestown (35-5) will open the Class A state tournament facing Fargo Davies (24-9) at 3 p.m.
Falling to Bismarck Century 3-1 in last Saturday's West Region tournament championship in Mandan should provide the Jays ample motivation.
"Just do our thing and I think we'll be fine," said setter Gaffaney, who sets a new school record with every assist she dishes out. "The end of that last game really wasn't our best, but I know we can come out and show what we can do."
Gaffaney had tallied 3,270 career assists prior to last week's regional. She was named the West's senior athlete of the year, finishing ahead of all-state teammate Schiele in the voting.
Schiele has been as solid as they come at libero, leading the team this fall with 611 digs. She still blushes, however, when it's pointed out she rarely lets a ball hit the floor.
"People will come up and say those things to me, and I'm just so honored and I don't know what to say to them," said Schiele, who will be teammates with Gaffaney again next season at the University of Jamestown. "I'm just doing my job and I couldn't do it without these girls.
"We all just bring in a piece, like to a puzzle."
Schiele's sentiments are a common thread. Kurtz, the team's soaring outside hitter with 268 kills this season, also deflected praise and credited the entire flock for any statistical success.
"Without our back row, and without our setter, that wouldn't be possible for me," Kurtz said. "We have to be one, or others aren't going to do well."
The Blue Jays faced Davies twice this fall during in-season tournament play and came away with victories of 2-0 and 2-1. But the state tournament is a different animal, and Jamestown's seniors are aware.
"We haven't seen them for awhile, so we can't underestimate them," said Paulson, an outside hitter. "I definitely don't think we've played the best we can play yet, so hopefully we'll do that this weekend."
East Region champion West Fargo (32-1) and Mandan (24-16) are also in Jamestown's half of the bracket. The Packers and the Braves will play the tournament's first match at 1 p.m. on Thursday.
"We're feeling pretty confident right now," defensive specialist Nihill said. "We're ready to work hard. Obviously, winning is more fun than losing."
Jamestown placed seventh at the state tournament last season. The goal is to be playing the late game on Saturday this time around.
"I think we can do it, and I think we all think that too," said Ukestad, who has balanced 356 digs with 186 kills this year. "We're just going to have to bring our 'A' game."
Coach Hegerle is confident that's exactly what Jamestown will provide. She directed the Blue Jays to a state championship in 2013.
"There isn't a doubt in my mind that this group is capable of winning a state championship," Hegerle said. "Right now I think we are all on the same page, which sometimes takes a lot of weeks in a season to get to and it's a great time to have that happen.
Class A State Volleyball Tournament
West Fargo (32-1) vs. Mandan (24-16), 1 p.m.
Jamestown (35-5) vs. Fargo Davies (24-9), 3 p.m.
Bismarck Century (33-8) vs. Devils Lake (21-14), 5 p.m.
Valley City (21-11) vs. Bismarck (24-16), 7 p.m.
Blue Jay season leaders
Kills: Courtney Peterson 309, McKayla Kurtz 268, Megan Gaffaney 193, Alyssa Ukestad 186, Abby Kallenbach 83, Jordan Paulson 83.
Assists: Gaffaney 622.
Aces: Gaffaney 83, Peterson 45, Hannah Schiele 41, Ukestad 39, Olivia Nihill 36.
Digs: Schiele 611, Ukestad 356, Nihill 318, Gaffaney 276.
Blocks: Gaffaney 39, Peterson 37, Kurtz 17, Kallenbach 17, Paulson 7.