Faith senior Brooke Lemmel remembers the last time the Lady Longhorns qualified for the state volleyball tournament.

She was in the 6th grade.

“Me and my classmates, Kailyn (Groves) and Triston (Delbridge) have talked about that class (2011-2012) that went to the state volleyball tournament and the state basketball tournament in that same year,” Lemmel said. “We always said we are going to do that too.”

The Lady Longhorns, seeded eighth, are halfway there as they will face top seed and defending state champion Northwestern in the first round of the Class B tournament today at noon at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

Regardless of the outcome of the state tournament, it’s been a nice story for the Lady Longhorns behind third-year coach Mandy Lemmel, Brooke’s sister-in-law. Faith is 21-11 after qualifying for the state tournament by knocking off Philip in the Sweet 16. Philip was the fourth seed, while Faith was 13th.

“At the beginning of the season our main goal was the state tournament,” sophomore setter Sydnie Schauer said. “We got to the Sweet 16 and Philip had beaten us before, so we knew we had to come out stronger than we ever had. And we did it. It was a great moment.”

Beating Philip was an accomplishment, Mandy Lemmel said, and something they can use to their advantage at the state tournament.

“We came back from losing 25-8 in game three. They just stomped us, we just flat-out lost that set," she said. "The girls came back; they weren’t down by that in the least. They came back fighting and finished.”

Facing Northwestern today will be a challenge. The Wildcats are not only the defending state champions, but they have won nine state titles in coach Nora Groft’s 22 years with the program (16 as head coach).

The Lady Longhorns are looking for play the spoiler, and that has to start with the defending champions.

“These girls are peaking at the right time, I feel like, and they are showing some grittiness, which I have been complaining about all year,” Mandy Lemmel said. “They have been mentally tough. They hadn’t always finished and they are starting to show that they are capable of doing that.”

Schauer said they have nothing to lose against Northwestern today.

“Being the underdog, I like that a lot more because it makes us work a lot harder,” Schauer said. “That’s what we were with Philip, we were the underdog.”

Statistical leaders for Faith this regular season include: Jaydon Schoemaker in kills (222), Brooklyn Hanson in digs (332) and aces (70), Mikenzy Miller in blocks (56) and Schauer in assists (665).

“They are such a good group of girls … drama free, which is a big thing for girls. They all get along well," Mandy Lemmel said. "If something needs to be discussed, we discuss it and we move on. They are good in the classroom, and their effort is something that I never doubt. I’m very proud that they give me everything they have every time.”

A former volleyball and basketball player at Black Hills State University, Mandy Lemmel said her girls have always had athletic ability, but they are honing their skills to become good volleyball players.

“I’ve seen a lot of potential in these kids, and their volleyball IQ has increased a lot,” she said. “I’ve had some fantastic coaches in my career and I’m trying to pass it along. I’m learning a different side of the game being a coach now. Their love of the game is growing, and their understanding of it.”

Coach Lemmel said that Northwestern is obviously a rock-solid team. After watching film, she said she is anxious to see them play in person and is anxious to see how they compare.

She said the Wildcats speed is quicker than they are used to.

“They are a team of volleyball players,” she said. “We’re not necessarily that; we’re a team of athletes. Those girls move and play like volleyball players. They have control, skill and court sense.

“They are solid, but we’re going to give them everything we got.”

Among the Northwestern leaders is senior libero Peyton Groft, who is serving 98 percent, with 57 aces. She also has 365 digs and 367 serve receptions

Sophomore setter Madalyn Groft is serving 95 percent with 52 aces, 124 kills, 942 assists, 203 digs and 26 blocks. Junior middle blocker Caitlyn Fischbach has 305 kills and 41 blocks.

“Our team plays 12 girls in its lineup: three seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen,” Coach Groft said. “We have been able to get a lot of girls playing time and experience this season so that we can be at our best in the post season. Everyone contributes to our success, and that gives us a lot of options depending on the opponent we are playing.”

Mandy Lemmel said that to be successful, they will have to block well and take care of the ball on their side of the court. She said they have been working on trying to pick up any weaknesses that Northwestern has and gear up and be ready to attack them if possible.

“I told the girls that they don’t have to play perfect to win, but they have to be about a nine out of 10, probably,” she said. “We’re capable of that, we really are.”

Brooke Lemmel said that they have been scouting Northwest and they are just another group of high school girls.

“We have to go out there and do our thing,” she said. “I absolutely love my team. I would not trade them for the world.”

A capsule look at other state teams:

No. 2: Chester Area

Record: 25-4

Coach: Jean Benson

Stat leaders: Kills: Jadon Wages, 364; Assists: Hailey Ewoldt, 837; Digs: Hanna Reiff, 854; Total Blocks: Dakota Alfson, 63; Aces: Hanna Reiff, 44.

Sweet 16 result: Beat Timber Lake 3-0 (25-10, 25-13, 25-16)

No. 3: Warner

Record: 25-4

Coach: Kari Jung

Stat leaders: Kills: Peyton Ellingson, 280; Assists: Morgan Rozell, 707; Digs: Laura Ochsner, 387; Total Blocks: Peyton Ellingson, 64; Aces: Ashley Fischbach, 49

Sweet 16 result: Beat Bridgewater-Emery 3-0 (25-13, 25-14, 25-6).

No. 4: Hanson

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Record: 24-2

Coach: Yolanda Price

Stat leaders: Kills: Jada Campbell, 525; Assists: Heather Kayser, 756; Digs: Brook Slaba, 358; Total Blocks: Jada Campbell, 68; Aces: Allison Bahmuller, 27.

Sweet 16 result: Beat Faulkton Area 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-20, 25-15)

No. 5: Herreid/Selby Area

Record: 29-2

Coach: Jody Schmidt

Stat leaders: Kills: Charlie Tisdall, 365; Assists: Cassie Anderson, 770; Digs: Charlie Tisdall, 362; Total Blocks: Madalyn Schumacher, 89; Aces: Rachel Fiedler, 81.

Sweet 16 result: Beat Kimball/White Lake 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-23)

No. 6: Burke/South Central

Record: 28-5

Coach: Billie Jo Indahl

Stat leaders: Kills: Taylee Indahl, 405; Assists: Bobbi Jo Wisechmann, 727; Digs: Lahna Matucha, 357; Total Blocks: Tressa Bull, 79; Aces: Bobbi Jo Wisechmann , 48.

Sweet 16 result: Beat Arlington 3-2 (21-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-12, 25-11)

No. 7: Deubrook Area

Record: 25-7

Coach: Rachelle DeBeer

Stat leaders: Kills: Ashley Vandermeer, 283: Assists: Shaylee DeBeer, 445; Digs: Cortney Bauman, 436; Total Blocks: Shaylee DeBeer, 74; Aces: Shaylee DeBeer, 61.

Sweet 16 result: Beat Kadoka Area 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 26-24).

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.