A program isn't built in a day. It takes years of hard work, failure and baby steps towards a larger goal.
The Black Hills State volleyball program took one of those baby steps over the weekend, in fact it was a pretty big step.
The Yellow Jackets qualified for their first ever Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference volleyball tournament after going 8-10 in the RMAC and earning the No. 8 seed. They will face Regis in Denver tonight at 7 p.m.
"I think it’s a huge stepping stone for us, it gets the monkey off your back, to qualify finally, and now we can start making moves and set goals to qualify higher than eighth or maybe even host a round. It’s a baby step," BHSU coach Kristin Carmichael said. "The leadership has been huge, I think there’s a confidence this team has had that other teams haven’t had and honestly that comes from other teams. As we do more things each year it definitely builds confidence, so I think it’s a four year journey."
This is the sixth season for BHSU in the RMAC, and Carmichael said she thought at the beginning of the season that this team could be the one to make the postseason.
"I was really optimistic, I thought our five seniors had it in their minds that that's what we were going to do," she said. "We started off the conference (season) with a big road win and road wins are hard to come by, so I just thought they were the team that was going to do it."
The senior group consists of Kenzie Kazmer, Fehrin Ward, Tara Hall, Cheyenne Palu and Sydney Ederhoff, and to start the season BHSU topped Fort Lewis in five sets.
Still, Saturday night the Yellow Jackets were not in control of their own destiny. BHSU sat at 8-10, but Chadron State College was 7-10, held a tiebreaker over the Jackets and faced Colorado Mines.
BHSU would have to watch, wait and hope. It paid off.
CSC was dropped by Colorado Mines in three sets, dropping its record in the RMAC to 7-11 and sending BHSU to Denver.
"It was miserable," Carmichael said of waiting for the result of the CSC-Colorado Mines match. "Obviously we would have loved to have been in control of our own destiny but it was nice to have the chance we did. We had a good season and did some nice things throughout the year, and it allowed us to have that chance, but that moment was pretty special.
"I think our whole team was watching it individually, but there was a group text message going around the night we qualified, so it was a big night."
The challenge now comes in the next step for the program, and a win tonight would be one of those next steps, but it won't be easy.
Regis is the No. 1 seeded in the tournament and have spent most of the season as the top team in the standings. At 25-3 overall and 17-1 in the RMAC, the Rangers are also ranked No. 11 in the country.
Although it's the first time in history that BHSU will be in the tournament, the Yellow Jackets aren't just happy for an invitation.
In two previous matches this season on Oct. 7 and Nov. 3, the Rangers got BHSU 3-0 and 3-1. Carmichael knows her team are big underdogs, but she said if her team can just take the match play at a time, there's no season they can't pull off the upset heard around the Rocky Mountains.
"We’d like to go in there and make some noise for sure. This is the third time we’ve played Regis and I feel like scouting reports are easy to do, we know a lot about them, they know a lot about us, it’s going to come down to who shows up on Tuesday night," she said. "They’re a good team, they’re talented but they’re just volleyball players in college like all of us. It’s a matter of doing your job and sticking to the scouting report. We’re trying not to make it too big of a deal, just like any other game."
Stopping the Regis attack will be difficult, Carmichael said, as the Rangers have been able to score at will this season.
"They definitely have a lot of offensive weapons, they have a lot of tall girls in the middle, and then a lot of firepower on the pins," she said. "It’s just a matter of getting them out of their system and us maintaining ball control so we can try to stick with them."
Although the Yellow Jackets aren't just happy to be in the tournament, when she found out the program was going for the first time Carmichael couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment.
Since joining the conference in 2012, the program's best conference record was 7-11, and this season's overall record of 11-16 is also the best its been since joining the conference and the NCAA.
But like a postseason vet, Carmichael reiterated that just getting to the tournament wasn't enough for BHSU.
"Finally, after all that work and all that time we put in we finally qualified," she said. "Now we get to show them what we can do and try to get a win. A new season starts (tonight), everyone has a 0-0 record."