WINNER-Making the Class A state tournament was the Winner High School volleyball team's goal. But now that the Warriors are in, they're not satisfied.
Using last year's defeat in the Round of 16 as fuel, the Warriors finished the regular season atop Region 7 with a 24-3 record, then advanced to state with three-set wins over Red Cloud in the region tournament and Pine Ridge in the SoDak 16.
Fourth-seeded Winner will make its first appearance at state since 2013, facing No. 5 Elk Point-Jefferson at 1:45 p.m. today at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
"(Our team) gels together, they work well together," Winner coach Jaime Keiser said. "They are together on the court, off the court-that's one thing you really can't teach. They don't care about who is getting the stats. They just want to win."
Winner's unselfishness has led to a balanced attack, though Morgan Hammerbeck leads the group. She has team highs of 361 kills and 349 digs, along with 50 aces. When she moves to the back row, Abby Marts (206 kills), Ellie Brozik (222 digs, 206 kills), Gracie Littau (286 digs) and Kalla Bertram (123 digs, 101 kills) are able to fill her shoes.
However, it was libero Maggie LaCompte (220 digs) who had to step up when Winner lost Alexis Richey to a knee injury midway through the season.
"(LaCompte) has done a very nice job getting to the right spot defensively," Keiser said. "... When you lose an honorable mention all-stater from last year, you're a little worried about who's going to step in, and I'd say Maggie LaCompte has done a very good job at doing that."
LaCompte will need to continue playing strong defense against the Huskies with Carlie Corder (297 kills) on the other side of the net. Keiser also pointed to the importance of her large group of hitters staying aggressive and making the Huskies earn their points as keys in Winner's opening-round match.
"If we attack the ball, I think they'll have a hard time stopping us, but we need to make sure we get to their big hitters," Keiser said. "Our defense needs to get to the ball and make sure we're getting up to their hits, too."
If the Warriors win to advance to the semifinals, top-seeded Miller likely will be waiting for them. Although, the No. 1 next to Miller's name won't scare off the Warriors, who handed the Rustlers one of their two losses on Aug. 23 in a four-set match. Miller plays Rapid City Christian in its opening match.
The Warriors also led Miller in their second match of the season on Sept. 15, though Winner dropped the final two sets after Richey went down with an injury.
The Warriors split a pair of matches with Class B postseason participant Burke, while also facing SoDak 16 teams Chamberlain, Dakota Valley and Arlington.
"One of the biggest things is we're not satisfied just getting to state," Keiser said. "Yes, that was our goal to make it to state, but we believe we have a really good team and could go far. ... We want to be playing in that night session."