The pressure of every bump, set and spike is intensified in the high school volleyball playoffs. Add a longstanding city rivalry to the mix and the emotion only increases.
That will be the case Thursday in the first round of the Class AA Sweet 16, with a trip to the state tournament held at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on the line, when Rapid City Stevens and Rapid City Central do battle.
It will be the third time the Cobblers and the Raiders have met this season, with Stevens sweeping both matches.
Still, Raiders coach Kylie Voorhees said she knows that everything changes come playoff time.
"I think the biggest thing with this match, and I said from the end of our season Oct. 24, this is a brand new season for us, we’ve started over," Voorhees said. "All teams that we play from here on out, are at different points of their season, they aren’t fresh out of the gates and getting used to each other and figuring out the right lineup, each of these teams is playing at the top of their game.
"We can’t take this match like 'we’ve played Central two times, we’ll beat them a third time.' We have to come in with more motivation, we have to come with a more strategic game plan and we have to come in with the right mindset that they’re a better team, we’re also a better team, but we can’t come in and play lackadaisical."
The Raiders come into the matchup 27-6 on the season and the three seed while Central is 9-19 and the 14 seed.
Stevens topped Central at Carold Heier Gymnasium on Sept. 9, 25-15, 25-15 and 25-20. When the meeting was at Naaz Gymnasium on Sept. 26, it was a 25-17, 25-12 and 25-14 win.
Central coach Jeanne Deming said that this Cobbler team isn't the same one as the team that has already lost two to Stevens.
"We’re working better as a team, playing with more confidence. Our back row has improved a ton this year along with our net play," she said. "You want to be at your peak at the end of the season and that’s where we’re at."
The Cobblers are decided underdogs going into the matchup, but Deming said she thinks the mental state of her team is as good as it has been at any point in the season.
"We’ve been gearing up for Nov. 9, this is the most important game for us. If we win, we go to state, and if we lose, we’re done," she said. "The girls are excited because they don't have to ride in a bus for 4-6 hours, they get to eat lunch together and then just go play. They have an 'I can' attitude, and anything can happen."
For Stevens, focus and discipline has been the biggest thing on the mind of Voorhees. She's noticed the Raiders will sometimes lose their focus during matches, and she knows that can't happen in the postseason.
"We address it every day because we can kind of see similar tendencies in practice, where we start our practice well and then we have to refocus to have a good outcome for the remainder of practice, so I’m still seeing it," she said of her team's focus concerns. "We have to play at the top of our game, stay focused and stay disciplined for the entire three to five sets."
What hasn't been an issue for the Raiders, is their ability to serve. It's something Voorhees has seen as a strength for her team that has been able to put them in contention for the number one seed all year.
"I think that’s one of our biggest strengths, being able to take a team out of its offense," she said. "I think we’ve put a good, strong focus on upping the ante defensively, and I think that’s improved tremendously over the last two weeks."
Much has been made of the fact that Stevens does not have any seniors on its roster this season, but Voorhees said she's leadership from her juniors that has been more than enough to get the team where it wants to go.
"I will say the juniors in the captains roles, I have seen them really step up to the plate over the last few weeks to help refocus," she said. "Their leadership has come through during time in need, at practice or after practice, where they’re telling the girls that they need to re-motivate."
The allure of playing in a state tournament isn't lost on either program, especially when the site is only a few miles away, or in the case of Central, right across the street.
"I have seven seniors, it’s probably most of their last time playing volleyball so I do think it’d be a huge thing (to play in the Civic Center)," Deming said. "We’ve had our ups and downs this year but I think they’re running at a lot more than they were a couple of weeks ago."
Stevens-Central gets underway from Stevens Thursday at 6 p.m.
In other local matchups, Spearfish will take on Sioux Falls O'Gorman and Sturgis will head to Mitchell.
At 16-12 and the No. 9 seed, Spearfish has faced O'Gorman once during the second match of the year. The Knights got the Spartans during a tournament in Huron in two sets, 25-17 and 25-14.
O'Gorman is 16-15 on the season and the No. 8 seed. After starting the season 9-3, the Knights are on a six game losing streak and have been hovering around .500 ever since. Game time from Sioux Falls will be 4 p.m.
The Scoopers will have a tall order when they take on the No. 2 seeded Mitchell Kernals.
Mitchell is 19-4 while Sturgis is 9-16. Neither team has face one another this season.
Sturgis had a difficult October, going 1-5 in the month. After four straight wins from Sept. 14-23 to put its record at 7-9, it has gone 2-7.
The Scoopers will try to pull off the upset in Mitchell Thursday at 5 p.m.