High school volleyball: Colman-Egan ready to get to work at state tournament

Colman-Egan’s Kaylee Voelker spikes the ball during a 3-0 win over Dell Rapids St. Mary on Oct. 31 in Colman. The Hawks play Castlewood in the Class B State Tournament on Thursday.

COLMAN — If there is one thing Colman-Egan can count on when it arrives at the SDHSAA State Class B Volleyball Tournament in Rapid City this weekend, it will be its familiarity with the situation.

The Hawks will be making their fourth straight trip to the state tournament and open as the No. 3 seed against No. 6 Castlewood on Thursday night. But after squaring off with the Warriors seven times over the previous two seasons, the Hawks have a good idea of what to expect as they look to take home a state title.

“To see a team that many times, [we] pretty much know each other,” C-E volleyball coach Abigail Dockter said. “It’s really just whoever shows up and if we can utilize our strong suits and just find their weaknesses like we have in prior matchups.”

The Hawks and Warriors have gotten familiar with each other as the two teams split four matches last season including a 3-1 win by the Warriors in last year’s Class B Consolation Semifinal. Colman-Egan has had the upper hand this year with three wins over Castlewood but the games have been competitive with five of the seven sets decided by three points or less.

“They’re very competitive,” Dockter said of the Warriors. “Last year we kind of went back and forth and we knew they were going to be competitive this year. They’re still a really great team and every time we’ve played them, we kind of barely made it by. I’m just hoping we can stay in control of the game and get it done.”

The key to this rivalry has been the continuity on both sides as both teams lost just four seniors from last year. For Castlewood, that means a potent front line that includes Presley Knecht, who racked up a team-high 467 kills and a .307 percent hitting efficiency and Emerson Carter (80 blocks), Ella Hunter (24 blocks) and Gracie Haug (20 blocks), who each had 20 or more blocks this season.

With Haug also posting a team-high 334 digs, the Warriors have a two-way game that creates issues for their opponents.

“They cover the floor really well,” Dockter said. “They just read and anticipate, so they’re pretty good at it and they have big hands on the block which is something we kind of struggle with. They have some really strong hitters that we need to keep under control and not let them beat us.”

With Castlewood riding their stars to an undefeated march to Rapid City, the Hawks faced a little bit of adversity on their way to the tournament. C-E swept Dell Rapids St. Mary in the Region 3B Quarterfinals on Oct. 31 but went ahead 2-0 before needing a fifth set to defeat Sioux Falls Lutheran on Nov. 2 and sweeping Alcester-Hudson 3-0 in the SoDak 16 on Nov. 7.

The ability to handle that adversity and mount six wins after trailing at some point in the match has been key for the Hawks and gives Dockter confidence that they can handle any situation at the state tournament.

“I think throughout this whole season, they’ve been known as the comeback crew,” Dockter said. “No matter what the score is, our girls never really give up. They’ll keep fighting and they’ll come back and take a set from people. It could be 20-15 and we’ll come back and win [the set.] That’s something our girls do and they can kind of figure out how to get back in control and take the game away.”

The Hawks have also been fueled by a balanced approach. Daniela Lee leads C-E with 318 kills, 65 blocks and ranks second on the team with 493 digs but Dockter believes her team’s communication down the final stretch has allowed others such as Anna Zwart (208 kills, 40 blocks) and Elaina Rhode (200 kills, 37 blocks) to step up.

“I always tell them that no matter where a first pass goes, if we can communicate well, we should be able to send some sort of aggressive attack over the net,” Dockter said. “They’ve done a lot better job communicating and having our outsides ready to hit the ball. Even a back row person and a second-row person getting that pass, they can send it somewhere that we can utilize a crisp attack over the net every single time.”

With Presley Luze (580 digs) and Kaylee Voelker (45 blocks) anchoring the defense, the Hawks have plenty of talent to make a run at the state tournament.

Although No. 1 seed Warner and No. 2 seed Chester have combined for a 67-2 record entering the tournament, the Hawks feel good about their game and are ready to cherish another opportunity this weekend.

“It just gives me all of the feels,” Dockter said. “We never take it for granted that we get to experience this each year, but we’re super excited to go out there. Now that we’re officially wheels up on the road and going over there, we’re just ready to get to work.”