The Rushmore Plaza Civic Center sits only about 10-15 minutes from Stevens High School, and for the Raider volleyball team, that building has been on their minds since August.
The building is set to host the Class AA state volleyball tournament starting Thursday with the Raiders coming in as a three seed after taking down Rapid City Central in three sets in the Sweet 16.
The Raiders open with No. 6 seed Huron Thursday at 6 p.m.
At 28-6, Stevens has been near the top of the standings all season, and junior middle hitter Carly Buehner said playing at the Civic Center in the state tournament is bound to be a lot of fun.
"It’s pretty special, I’m very excited," she said. "We have the home court advantage, so that’s nice. It’s been something we’ve been working hard for. Hopefully the crowd gets excited too because that helps us; it gives us a lot of momentum."
Raiders coach Kylie Voorhees said good teams should be able to take their style of play anywhere, but admitted that it will be nice to see a lot of Stevens blue in the stands.
"It is more special, when you have your home crowd and your fans don’t have to travel, so you potentially have more fans at your matches," she said. "I think the crowd support can make a difference."
It could make a big difference in a field that Voorhees said is wide open.
The No. 1 seed in the tournament is the defending champs, Harrisburg. The Tigers are 20-1 on the season. No. 2 seed Mitchell is 20-4, but Voorhees said any team can challenge once it becomes tournament time.
"This year I honestly think it’s anyone’s state tournament," she said. "I’m very confident in my girls, but it’s going to be the team that can play the best all three days. It doesn’t matter what the record says, because there are some lower seeds that beat big teams a week ago, so I think it’s anyone’s state tournament, and I hope it pans out for us."
Throwing the records out the window is especially true in the case of Huron, which Voorhees said always seems to have the ability to play well in the state tournament, even at 14-10.
"They have a great coach and she knows how to beat teams, she’s always got a great strategy in play," she said. "Right now, Huron is honestly playing the best they’ve played all season long, so they’re peaking at the right time. Even though we beat them two times, we have to be prepared for a third time."
Stevens beat Huron Aug. 26 during a tournament in two sets (25-22, 25-15) and Oct. 13 in a close five-set match (25-19, 25-21, 26-28, 23-25, 15-9).
For the Raiders this season, Elizabeth Schaefer leads the team in kills with 277 and digs with 246, while Marlee Schneider leads the team in assists with 937 and serve aces with 56. Phoebie Rossi leads in total blocks with 85.
Serving has been a strength for the Raiders all season, but they know that in Class AA there are a lot of strong serving teams as well.
"We’ve got a strategy for our serve game against Huron. On the flip side, we’ve heard they’re serving aggressive, so our serve receive game still has to be on," Voorhees said. "I think the other thing for us, and a place where we have an advantage, is that we have a big block. If our serving and blocking game is on and we play with confidence, we should handle Huron pretty steadily."
At times this season, Voorhees has been disappointed in a lack of focus during certain matches. She said she thinks her girls are focused and ready to go, and Buehner agreed.
"I’m feeling really confident. Our team is playing really well together. I feel like our season has been pretty consistent, we’ve been playing pretty well all around, we’ve had a few lulls but for the most part we’ve been playing pretty well," she said. "We just need to remember to be excited about everything, even when we’re down by a few points, we have to stay excited."
One team that is excited to be in Rapid City is the favorite and defending champs, Harrisburg.
At 20-1, the Tigers have rolled through the regular season. It took four sets to knock out No. 16 seed Brookings in the Sweet 16 (25-15, 25-22, 25-27, 25-15) and now coach Ronette Costain said her team is ready for its next challenge, No. 8 seed Sioux Falls O'Gorman.
"We’re kind of chomping at the bit here," she said. "You can tell the girls are anxious and ready to go. I’ve got six seniors with a lot of varsity experience from our championship team from last year. They play extremely well together and play confident."
The Tigers have been led in kills by Madison Wassink with 281, digs with 311 and aces with 26. Avery Thorson has led the team in assists with 695 and total blocks has been led by Wassink and Meghan Krull with 45.
Although Harrisburg has been either at the top or close all season, Costain wasn't interested in crowning her team just yet.
"That’s what some people tell me (that Harrisburg is the favorite). As far as my view, I think you’ve got to come to play each night or someone is going to sneak up on you," she said. "We’re just going to take it one game at a time and see how things go, and see if we can reach our goal of being state champs."
Harrisburg and O'Gorman get started at noon Thursday.
Here is a look at the other teams in Class AA:
No. 2 Mitchell
Coach: Deb Thill
Stat leaders: Kills: Mackenzie Miller, 406; Assists: Mandy Schmidt, 831; Digs: Mackenzie Miller, 324; Total Blocks: Carly Haring 76; Aces: Mackenzie Miller, 36.
Sweet 16 result: Beat Sturgis 3-0 (25-13, 25-13, 25-13)
No. 4 Aberdeen Central
Coach: Dennis Northrup
Stat leaders: Kills: Paiton Burckhard, 293; Assists: Haylee Mork, 533; Digs: Paiton Burckhard, 236; Total Blocks: Melia Mounga, 61; Aces: Paiton Burckhard, 42
Sweet 16 result: Beat Yankton 3-0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-18)
No. 5 Watertown
Coach: Rosemary Hirtz
Stat leaders: Kills: Mariah Gloe, 284; Assists: Annie Norberg, 370; Digs: Tayler Corey, 361; Total Blocks: Sophie Tiez, 76; Aces: Sophie Tiez, 29
Sweet 16 result: Beat Pierre 3-0 (25-11, 25-20, 25-17)
No. 6 Huron
Coach: Shelly Buddenhagen
Stat leaders: Kills: Hollee Niehus, 366; Assists: Jayda Shillingstad, 746; Digs: Havyn Heinz, 617; Total Blocks: Jayda Shillingstad 57; Aces: Jayda Shillingstad 48
Sweet 16 result: Beat Sioux Falls Roosevelt 3-0 (25-11, 25-23, 25-13)
No. 7 Sioux Falls Washington
Coach: Kelly Schroeder
Stat leaders: Kills: Lily Bartling, 262; Assists: Hailey Olson, 548; Digs: Peyton Rymerson, 488; Total Blocks: Phekran Kong, 85; Aces: Hailey Olson, 50
Sweet 16 result: Beat Sioux Falls Lincoln 3-0 (25-10, 25-16, 25-12)
No. 8 Sioux Falls O'Gorman
Coach: Julie Kolbeck
Stat leaders: Kills: Emma Ronsiek, 259; Assists: McKenzie Hermanson, 464; Digs: Meghan Bornhoft, 299; Total Blocks: Courtney Baruth 74; Aces: Emma Ronsiek, 51
Sweet 16 result: Beat Spearfish 3-1 (25-27, 29-27, 25-10, 25-12)