2013 JHS volleyball team 'set a standard' for what is possible
The Jamestown High School volleyball team won the program's first-ever state championship in 2013.
When trying to describe a state championship experience — there are not really any words — you just had to be there.
McKayla (Orr) Sablan was there in 2013.
At 18 years old, the Jamestown High School senior walked into the Minot State Dome with the rest of the Blue Jay volleyball team feeling every emotion in the book.
"The atmosphere of that place was unreal," Sablan said. "We had fans from other schools telling us that they were rooting for us throughout the tournament.
"The other teams stayed to watch the game and also to see who was going to make the awards at the end. Girls were asking to wear our Blue Jay shirts. They were cheering and standing in our Blue Jay section. That feeling of support coming from another town is something that doesn’t happen often."
What those fans were cheering for turned out to be another stamp on the long list of things that a group of Jamestown female athletes has accomplished.
After an impressive, three-month showing in the fall of 2013, Sablan and the Jamestown High School volleyball team claimed the program's first-ever Class A State championship title, defeating Bismarck Century 22-25, 25-20, 22-25, 25-20, 15-12. The Jays' 2013 squad was the last female Blue Jay athletics team to claim a state championship title. All told, there have been 13 female Blue Jay teams that have garnered a state tournament trophy, since the gymnastics squad did it first in 1969.
"The outcome surprised us — it surprised everyone in the state," JHS head volleyball coach Sara Hegerle said. "Not because we weren’t good enough to win it — we believed we were — but we were up against the giants of the west and the east. We were small in comparison but our hearts and spirits were huge."
The Blue Jays' 2013 squad was headed up by Sablan, Addie Eamon and Josie (Hegerle) Beckman. All three of the then-seniors were named to the 2013 Class A All-State team. Beckman was named the 2013 Class A Senior Athlete of the Year.
Jamestown also had a group of confident juniors in Jenna Stilwel, McKayla (Keller) Carlson and Julina Neimier. Meghan (Orr) Rene was the only sophomore on the team's 2013 roster who played during the state tourney.
"Coming into our season year we had a really, strong team," Sablan said. "Once our coach Sara (Hegerle) figured out our rotations it was just about playing hard and playing for each other. We knew that our biggest competition was going to be Century — they had a strong team as well. During the season we beat them both at home and at their place. It definitely was a moment we won’t forget. It also got people really looking into our team and worried to play us."
Blue Jays had a 32-4 record entering the state tournament, rattling off 24 straight prior to the WDA tournament title tilt.
Jamestown hosted the WDA tournament in 2013 and Sablan said the entire team was in the stands for the semifinal match between Bismarck St. Mary's and Century. Century lost out against the Saints, a feat the Jays would repeat less than 24 hours later which wound up crowning St. Mary's the 2013 West Region Tournament champs.
"Obviously, at the time we thought our world was ending," Sablan said of losing out in the WDA title game. "But, it turned out that our seeding at State lined up better that way. It also gave us a reality check after having a phenomenal season."
2013 marked only the fourth time the Jays went to State and after defeating Grand Forks Red River in the state quarterfinals Jamestown (33-4) was ensured the best finish in school history. It had only three previous trips, taking sixth in 1999 and 2012, and eighth in 2001. The North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA) sanctioned the sport in 1984.
The state championship was Jamestown’s first team championship since 2005. The Blue Jays' volleyball team had never played in the championship bracket prior to the 2013 trip.
Since winning it all, Jamestown has made six trips back to the big leagues but none have quite stunned like the 2013 crew.
Rainey Selvig got things going for the Jays up in Minot, putting up five kills in the opening set against the Roughriders. Jamestown scored eight of the final nine points in the game opener and didn’t have much trouble with the second set either, pulling ahead 15-14 and never looking back.
Jamestown did trail Red River 12-6 in the final set but rallied and scored eight of the last 10 to secure the sweep.
Friday's match followed a similar pattern — just amped up a little.
In set No. 1 of the semifinal, Fargo Shanley’s Hannah Krauter saw her ace drop to put the Deacons ahead 24-20 but Shanley’s nightmare unfolded when it couldn’t muster one more point.
A pair of hitting errors helped tie the match at 24 and the two teams went back and forth until Jamestown took a 30-29 lead on another error. A tip kill by Beckman completed the comeback and Jamestown won it 31-29.
Fast starts in sets No. 2 and 3 bolstered by Eamon's 16 kills and contributions all across the floor sealed the Deacons' fate and sent the Jays to the final round where they would battle Century for the third time that season.
"I remember a lot about that championship match," Hegerle said in recollection. "I remember I completely lost my voice right before our pregame team meeting and I had to have assistant coach Jada Meiklejohn run the meeting and read the pregame story.
"I remember when Jenna Stilwell broke her nose diving for a ball at the end of set four and then played set five and was a big player for us," Hegerle said. "That’s the kind of players those kids were. They were gritty."
Stilwell gave Jamestown a 12-11 lead and the Blue Jays never trailed thereafter.
"We were able to pick it back up and work hard point by point," Sablan said. "I remember it was 14-12 and my sister Meghan was coming in to serve for Addie Eamon.
"Addie was telling Meghan – a sophomore at that time - to just 'get that serve in.'"
Eamon hammered 24 kills, but the biggest one came late in the game. Century's Alaina Furcht drew the Patriots within one at 13-12 with a kill, but Eamon followed with no-doubter. A Century hitting error sealed the championship for the 35-4 Blue Jays.
"There was never a moment that I felt we had it," Hegerle said. "It wasn’t until we score the winning point that I felt it was over. Century never stopped playing hard and we had to earn every point. The last five or six points of the match were insane. The rallies seemed to last forever and we won every one of those rallies. Those are the points of the match that I will never forget.
"I remember that it felt like everyone in that gym was cheering for the Blue Jays — it was awesome."
The Blue Jays broke some unofficial records with their state championship win. Jamestown beat Fargo North’s 2004 mark of 136 digs in a single match with 151 against Century. The Blue Jays also topped Grand Forks Red River’s 2003 record of 52 assists in a single match with 63.
Individually, Sablan's 94 digs in three state tournament matches bested the 91 in 2003 by Kaylee Frenzel of Dickinson. Addie Eamon posted 24 kills, the most ever for an individual in a championship.
"Volleyball has always been a popular sport," Hegerle said. "For some reason, girls — and boys for that matter — enjoy the game of volleyball. When we won the championship, yes it added to the excitement in this town. Our girls were great leaders of this sport and I know they set an example of what was possible. Our numbers did increase and continue to grow every year. I don’t know if it was that particular season that prompted the growth but it sure didn’t hurt it."
Sablan said being a part of the first team from Jamestown to win a volleyball state championship and hanging a banner at Jerry Meyer Arena was an amazing feeling.
"We set a standard for Jamestown that we can compete with the schools in Bismarck," Sablan said. "We definitely put Jamestown on the map. I believe a lot of younger girls in the volleyball program looked up to us. They were at a lot of our matches and some even traveled to watch us on away games.
"The numbers in the volleyball program have grown tremendously since our championship in 2013."
Young volleyball players have many opportunities to play here in Jamestown. Sablan said Jamestown offers summer camps at the high school for 9-12 graders. When they aren't competing themselves, the high schoolers have the chance to help with youth camps offered throughout the summer months.
Jamestown also has individual and team camps through the University of Jamestown, which are very competitive and attract a large number of girls from around the state. Interested parties can also compete in junior volleyball during the spring — yet another opportunity to play the sport during the offseason whether hosting a tournament or traveling to one.
"Athletics teaches kids hard work, teamwork, dealing with winning and losing, dedication and making friendships along the way," Sablan said. "Females are also given the opportunity to play at the next level and may be given athletic scholarships to help pay for college."
Sablan said a majority of the 2013 state championship team went on to play collegiate level volleyball, basketball or track and field.
"We were grateful for the coaches that recruited us and for the chance to compete at the next level," Sablan said. "I encourage all females to try athletics. There are more female sports being played than ever before. Females have many to choose from each season: fall, winter and spring."
Sablan said she believes Jamestown is a great town for students to strive in athletics. While the Buffalo City may not have a lot of numbers compared to the bigger towns, it provides athletes a unique chance to play up and compete — and not just in one sport.
Sablan said that in a smaller town like Jamestown, she thinks playing multiple sports year-round helps not only prevent burnout early in athletes' careers but also makes them more well-rounded as they are continually working to become better in some area or another.
Sablan said playing three sports in high school — volleyball, basketball and track and field — created many memories throughout her athletic career. The Blue Jay and Jimmie alum said she is grateful to all of the coaches who saw her drive, leadership and desire to compete and worked with her to foster her talents athletically and personally.
"A lot of people use the phrase 'athletics aren’t everything,' but when you’re an athlete - sports are your life," Sablan said. "It teaches so much more than winning and losing. It molds kids into the people they are today.
"My experience as an athlete has guided me into the path of coaching. Giving back to the community that gave me so much growing up is something I will never forget. I want young athletes to succeed in any sport they are passionate about and have a great experience along the way."