Kaylee Panchot is taking no chances when it comes to protecting her senior volleyball season from COVID-19.
"My team means everything to me.," Panchot said. "The volleyball program and my team, specifically, have kept me sane through this whole thing. I could not imagine my life without each and every single one of them. They are truly my family."
Panchot and the Blue Jays will kick off the West Region volleyball tournament Tuesday hosting sixth-seeded Bismarck St. Mary's. The Blue Jays (14-4) finished third in the conference standings to earn an opening-round postseason game at home.
The first two rounds of the tournament will be played at higher seeds both Tuesday and Thursday, while the championship and state-qualifying matches will be held Saturday at Bismarck Legacy High School. Bismarck Century (18-0) won the regular-season conference crown and Mandan (14-4) edged out the Blue Jays for the No. 2 seed via head-to-head victories over the Jays.
Tuesday's quarterfinals also have Century hosting Watford City, Mandan hosting Minot and Bismarck hosting Legacy.
"This season means so much to us," Panchot said. "(JHS volleyball coach) Sara (Hegerle) constantly reminds each of us to be grateful. We have to be reminded that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so we need to be grateful for today and every day we get to show up to the gym and compete."
It means so much to Panchot that she made some dedicated sacrifices.
"I recently did move out of my house and moved in with my Grandma," Panchot said. "She lives in Jamestown, so it was an easy switch. My dad gets tested very regularly at his job so with the off-chance he was to test positive, I wouldn’t have to quarantine and I would be protecting my team if I was to get it."
Panchot also made the decision early in the season to switch from part-time work to PRN -- as necessary -- at Eventide Jamestown, protecting her position but limiting hours in order to accommodate the demands of her season.
"She has legitimately given herself to this team," JHS head coach Sara Hegerle said of Panchot. "It's awesome."
Panchot, one of Hegerle's three senior captains, has had to give herself to a new role in the last week. Panchot is the interim libero for the Jays heading into the first round of the WDA tournament as starting libero Rachel Schiele was diagnosed with appendicitis on Halloween.
"Rachel has been playing that position for a couple of years so we kind of got a fresh start with new kids and new positions," Hegerle said. "We moved up two JV DSs and they've been doing a great job. They are bringing a whole new excitement to our team which is fun."
Rylee Joseph and Breanna Oettle were the two most recent additions to the varsity squad having closed out their season on the JV roster. Bernadette Newman also joined the squad with a couple of weeks left in the regular season. The additional players put the Jays' roster at 16 heading into the postseason.
"It's a challenge to get 16 girls to agree to the same finish," Hegerle said. "They all have different personalities and different goals but the team is their common goal. It's tough but these kids are doing it -- it's such a great thing to be a part of."
Panchot acknowledged the sacrifices she and others have made for the Jays but added that time spent away from friends and family is contributing to a stronger team -- relationally and physically.
I have had the chance to hang out with some of my friends that are not in volleyball, but as a captain, I have to set an example, so I said I wasn’t able to," Panchot said. "Sometimes we have to make the tough decision and say 'no' otherwise we are jeopardizing our team and our season.
"We have to keep reminding ourselves we just have two weeks left."
The Blue Jays are hoping for a whole lot of wins in those 14 days, starting with Tuesday.
If the third-seeded Jays beat St. Mary's, they'll face the winner of seventh-seeded Minot and second-seeded Mandan on Thursday at the higher seed. If Jamestown drops the first round, it will play the loser at the higher seed.
"Having the (final-round) games at Legacy on Saturday will be a big plus," Panchot said. "We will be able to watch the last games of WDA. It should be exciting."
Hegerle added: "It's different but different doesn't mean worse. I think it gives us a chance to prepare for each team we play, whereas before it was three days in a row where we really couldn't practice or prepare. I think it is going to be a fun tournament."
HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
CLASS A WEST REGION TOURNAMENT
(Seeding in parenthesis)
G1: (8) Watford City 3, (9) Dickinson 0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-15)
G2: (7) Minot 3, (10) Williston 0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-10)
G3: (8) Watford City at (1) Bismarck Century, 7 p.m.
G4: (5) Bismarck Legacy at (4) Bismarck, 7 p.m.
G5: (7) Minot at (2) Mandan, 7 p.m.
G6: (6) Bismarck St. Mary's at (3) Jamestown, 7 p.m.
G7: Loser G3 vs. Loser G4 (at higher seed)
G8: Loser G5 vs. Loser G6 (at higher seed)
G9: Winner G3 vs. Winner G4 (at higher seed)
G10: Winner G5 vs. Winner G6 (at higher seed)
(GAMES PLAYED AT BISMARCK LEGACY)
G11: Winner G8 vs. Loser G9, 11 a.m. (state qualifier)
G12: Winner G7 vs. Loser G10, 2 p.m. (state qualifier)
G13: Winner G9 vs. Winner G10, 5 p.m. (championship)