The Madison Lady Bulldogs will be the first team trying to dethrone the Sioux Falls Christian Chargers in this year's State A Volleyball Tournament. The two Dakota XII Conference foes will face off at noon on Thursday at the Watertown Civic Center.
"At this point, we are just happy to be at the State Tournament," said Madison Coach Jill Kratovil. "We can't control who we play, but we can control how we play. We know what to expect from them and what we need to do, so we just need to go out with confidence and play our game."
The Chargers are the three-time defending champions and the No. 1 seed this year.
Madison, the eighth seed, enters the State Tournament with a 16-4 overall record. The Lady Bulldogs lost to Sioux Falls Christian twice, once to Northwestern (No. 1 seed in State B Tournament) and once to Brookings, a Class AA team.
Madison holds wins against three of the State A Tournament qualifiers, Hamlin, Parker and Dakota Valley, this season.
Kratovil believes the Lady Bulldogs are playing great volleyball as they enter the State Tournament.
"We have just a little more to show everyone," she said. "We will continue to work on our serve receive because we know our opponents will serve aggressively."
Other first-round matches will have Winner battling Hamlin at 2 p.m., Rapid City Christian facing Dakota Valley at 5 p.m., and Hill City playing Parker at 7 p.m.
The tough schedule throughout the season should prepare the Lady Bulldogs for this weekend.
"I think our girls are ready for tight volleyball matches, which is what you will see at the State Tournament," Kratovil said. "We have had to fight back from behind a couple of times this season, and we know we can still come out on top even if we start from behind."
Kratovil and the Lady Bulldogs will be taking one match at a time this weekend.
"Sioux Falls Christian is the team we have to beat right now to get to the championship night," she said. "There are a lot of teams with great records this season. I think it all depends on the teams that show up and who plays their best volleyball. With SFC ranked #1, that is the team we need to focus on to even have a chance at the title."
Madison will have solid senior leadership heading into the State Tournament. Playing for the Lady Bulldogs for the last time this weekend are Abby Brooks (who is heading to Northern State next year), Autumn Barger, Skyler Sargent and Sophia Vanden Bosch. Juniors who have played a major role this season are Kylie Krusemark, Ali Vacanti and Raena Rost, along with freshman Audrey Nelson.
Other teams members are juniors Abby Palmquist, Olivia Flemming and Abby Morse, sophomores Maycee Theede and Megan Schouwenburg, and freshman Amanda Vacanti.
"These girls have been in this situation before," she said. "The jitters and nerves should be out, compared to last year. Having that experience I think makes a difference when it comes to calming nerves."
Serving will be a key for the Lady Bulldogs against Sioux Falls Christian.
"We have to serve aggressively," Kratovil said. "We also need to stay on the attack. We have to take advantage of every opportunity we are given."
Kratovil is very proud of her girls.
"I am just proud and excited for this group of girls," she said. "It has been an interesting season, and they never faltered. They kept pushing, and I am excited to see what this weekend has in store for them."
The tournament will run through Saturday at the Watertown Civic Center. Games will be at 12, 2, 5 and 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.