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Belle Fourche setter Payson Birkeland sets against Chadron, Neb., earlier in the season. The Brons will open the Class A State Tournament at the Civic Center in Rapid City tonight at 6 p.m. against Sioux Valley.

With the Class A state championship tournament kicking off from the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Thursday, Belle Fourche volleyball is searching for its first title since 1992.

Although the Broncs finished the season on a hot streak, coach Loree Schlichtemeier knows it won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

“There is a very competitive field going into the tournament,” she said. “I would expect the entire field to be awesome. I would say the first-place team is going to be a great team and the eighth-place team is going to be great. It is a loaded tournament this year.”  

With the obvious goal of all eight teams being an opportunity to earn a state title, Schlichtemeier is looking at the first match of the tournament with the utmost importance.

“We want to be very competitive,” she said. “A win in the first round would be awesome, so we are really just focused on that first match right now.”  

In its first match of the tournament, Belle Fourche will be taking on Sioux Valley at 6 p.m., a team that won 23 matches while only dropping four during the regular season.

The Broncs are looking forward to playing in the atmosphere of the Civic Center, even though they know the first round will be tough.

“You know, you’re playing in the Civic Center and that is going to be a great atmosphere," Schlichtemeier said. "They (Sioux Valley) have a great team and only have four losses for a good reason. They have a great team led by a couple of seniors and its going to be a tough matchup for us.”

Belle Fourche heads into the tournament with 11 straight wins, nine of which came at the end of the regular season.

The Broncs kicked off the Class A playoffs with a straight-set win over St. Thomas More (25-8, 25-23 and 25-11), before earning a hard fought five rounder over Winner in the Sweet 16 (25-22, 16-25, 25-17, 18-25 and 15-11).

Belle Fourche was very successful during the regular season, only losing a trio of matches at the Redfield Tournament in early October.

The tournament in Redfield was a bit of a wake-up call for Schlichtemeier and the rest of the team, but ultimately helped in the long run

“That tournament is at a point of the season where that Thursday night, we were in Red Cloud and the next day we went to Redfield,” she said. “It really opens your eyes and it’s a challenge. A very tough point in the schedule and it challenges your toughness a little bit.”

The Cossacks punched their ticket into the state title tournament with a three-set victory over Hamlin in the Region 2A tournament, followed by a straight set win over Pine Ridge in the Round of 16.

Belle Fourche will not rely on the fact that they have had a great season up to this point, mostly due to the fact that Schlichtemeier believes anyone can win it.

“You know, I think it’ll come down to somebody who gets on a roll, or somebody who has a lot of firepower,” she said.

When asked if anything needs to be tweaked or changed at this stage of the playoffs, Schlichtemeier was clear about fine tuning what the team already excelled at.

“At this point you’re just looking at fine tuning things,” she said. “We are just looking to keep things clean.”

With most of her focus on the tournament, Schlichtemeier is looking forward to getting the weekend started so Rapid City can enjoy the competition between the top 24 teams in the state across all three classes.

“This is an opportunity for spectators to see some awesome volleyball,” she said. ”They will be playing on three courts at a time and it’ll be great for people to come out and see.”

The top seed in the tournament, Sioux Falls Christian, is in search of its third state title in the last four years.

A task that isn't easy by any means, especially considering the rest of the field is so stacked.

"We will have to play our best volleyball and put three great matches together," Dakota Valley coach Darci Wassenaar said. "We need to be aggressive offensively and play tough defense.  We will need to serve tough and pass the ball well."

The Chargers will kick off the tournament with a matchup against McCook Central/Montrose, a match Wassenaar isn't overlooking.

"MCM is a very good team with a lot of athleticism," she said. "We need to come out strong and ready to play right from the beginning."

Here is a look at other teams in Class A:

No. 1 Sioux Falls Christian

Record: 28-4

Coach: Darci Wassenaar

Stat leaders: Kills: Ellie Voss, 360; Assists: Samantha Fykstra, 779; Digs: Emily Strasser, 233; Total Blocks: Ellie Voss 40.5, Aces: Kylee Van Egdom, 69

Sweet 16 result: Beat Mobridge-Pollock 3-0 (25-7, 25-6, 25-11)

No. 2 Dakota Valley

Record: 26-3

Coach: Amy Wiseman

Stat leaders: Kills: Meredith Lammers, 312; Digs: Alyssa Johns, 329; Total Blocks: Elizabeth Lammers, 33; Aces: Ally Beresford, 55

Sweet 16 result: Beat Elk Point-Jefferson 3-0 (25-18, 25-16, 25-13)

No. 3 Belle Fourche

Record: 30-3

Coach: Loree Schlichtemeier

Stat leaders: Kills: Sierra Ward 454; Assists: Payson Birkeland, 373; Digs: Sierra Ward, 253; Total Blocks: Mandee Williamson 66; Aces: Payson Birkeland, 49

Sweet 16 result: Beat Winner 3-2 (25-22, 16-25, 25-17, 18-25, 15-11)

No. 4 Madison

Record: 25-4

Coach: Jill Kratovil

Stat leaders: Kills: Olivia Rud, 301; Assists: Shania Schwebach, 631; Digs: Morgan Anderson, 264, Total Blocks: Olivia Rud, 91; Aces: Olivia Rud 40

Sweet 16 result: Beat Dell Rapids 3-2 (19-25, 29-31, 26-24, 25-20, 15-3)

No. 5 Miller

Record: 25-4

Coach: Linda DeBoer

Stat leaders: Kills: Kadye Fernholz, 382; Assists: Rachel Oligmueller, 775; Digs: Karly Beckett, 329; Total Blocks: Kadye Fernholz, 68; Aces: Karly Beckett, 34

Sweet 16 result: Beat Rapid City Christian 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-12)

No. 6: Sioux Valley

Record: 25-4

Coach: Jill Vincent

Stat leaders: Kills: Lynsey Stevens, 316: Assists: Rachel Miller, 883; Digs: Nikole Ziegler, 339; Total Blocks: Miakken Vincent 74; Aces: Nikole Ziegler, 51

Sweet 16 result: Beat Pine Ridge 3-0 (25-9, 25-13, 25-18)

No. 7 Parker

Coach: Jill Christensen

Record: 25-6

Stat leaders: Kills: Hannah Viet, 388; Assists: Hannah Even, 767; Digs: Grace Leberman, 334; Total Blocks: Hannah Viet, 91; Aces: Grace Leberman, 30

Sweet 16 result: Beat Redfield/Doland 3-0 (26-24, 25-7, 25-16)

No. 8 McCook Central/Montrose

Record: 19-8

Coach: Tami Bies

Stat leaders: Kills: McKenna Kranz, 214; Assists: Emily Bies, 416; Digs: McKenna Kranz, 313; Total Blocks: Morgan Koepsell, 87; Aces: Aleah Ries, 40

Sweet 16 result: Beat Groton Area 3-1 (23-25, 25-16, 25-17, 25-21)

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.