“Keep calm and carry on” might not be the best motto for a volleyball setter — a carry is a violation in that sport, after all.
But for Century’s Shay Bense, the spirit of the old British World War II public service message turned 21st Century meme applies to her approach to the game.
“Shay brings a very calm, very collected attitude to the court,” said Century’s Sara Bohrer, echoing the sentiments of her co-coach Jamie Zastoupil. “… Shay is a very silent leader and a very serious player. You don’t see her smile a lot on the court, but she is one of those kids that get in the zone and run with it.”
Having Bense returning at setter is one reason why the defending state champions are expected to be contending again this year.
Century did lose six players to graduation, including West Region senior athlete of the year Hannah Larson. But Bense is one of four returnees — along with junior hitters Ali Hasche and Jordyn Jossart and junior defensive specialist/libero Elise Bauman — who saw a lot of action on the 2012 championship team. The Tribune’s West Region coaches’ poll put Century one vote behind Jamestown with Bismarck also drawing some support.
“We hope that we’re going to be pretty good, but we know we can’t count on being a dominant team,” Zastoupil said. “We’ll have to work for every win.”
Having Bense will certainly help. Last season the Patriots switched to a 5-1 formation to take advantage of her ability to play the entire court. It was the first time she had ever played in a 5-1 offense.
“It definitely was different, but it was a lot of fun,” Bense said. “It’s a lot more tiring, and you have to do a lot of different stuff.”
Bohrer said Bense made the adjustment well.
“She really stepped up to the challenge,” Bohrer said. “… She definitely has a presence on the court. She worked really hard to be able to play all the way around. She’s not the tallest player (5-9), but she worked hard as a blocker and can be an effective hitter.”
Zastoupil said she is expecting that Bense will be even better in his second year as a starter.
“Having a veteran setter gives the coaches a sense of relief,” Zastoupil said. “Having Shay out there in big games, making the tough decisions, gives us a sense of confidence. Shay just knows the game. She’s a student of the game, she’s smart and she can kind of anticipate what happens. That helps so much for a setter.”
In addition to Hasche and Jossart, other targets for Bense will include 6-1 senior Alaina Furcht, junior Cassidy Miller and sophomore Katie Scherr.
The Patriots, who were 36-4 last year, have played in four of the last five state championship matches. Bense wants to keep that tradition going.
“We have some good players back and some good young players ready to help us out,” Bense said. “I still think we’re the team to beat.”
Bismarck has three returning senior starters — McKenzie Keifer, Morgan Miller and Natalee Todd — back from a team that went 23-16 a year ago and took eighth at the state tournament. Keifer will be the setter, with Todd in the middle and Miller on the outside. Another veteran senior, Estee Schmidt, will play on the right side when she returns from an ACL injury suffered during track season.
Among the newcomers expected to make an impact are juniors Alison Fisher (libero), Taylor Hoekstra (outside/defensive specialist) and Jenna Binstock (outside), and sophomore Shelby Arman (outside).
“The biggest strength is going to be our ball control,” Bismarck coach Jessica Nichols said. “This is going to be one of our most controlled groups in a couple of years.
“I think we should be in the top four, maybe in the top one or two if everything goes well,” she added. “There’s going to be some good competition.”
St. Mary’s went 16-16 a year ago, posting its best season since 2001-02, the last time the Saints had a winning record.
The Saints fell one win short of state, though, and St. Mary’s has a very good chance to remedy that this year. The coaches tabbed the Saints to finish fourth in the West.
St. Mary’s has five returning starters and 11 seniors on the roster, seven of whom saw regular playing time in 2012.
Returning starters include Ashley Wanner and Kaylyn Herold in the middle, Katelyn Schaffner and Mary Roller on the outside and Allie Reisenauer at setter. Rounding out the starting lineup will be 6-foot outside hitter Alex McIntee.
Mandan will have a young group after graduating eight seniors from a team that went 12-24 and missed the state tournament in 2012.
Braves who saw varsity time a year ago include setter Madysen Zander and middle hitter Rachelle Harr, both juniors.
“We’ve got a lot of kids making the jump up to varsity, and they have to get adjusted to game speed,” said second-year coach Anna Folk.
Defensive specialist Sara Aune is the only senior projected to be in the starting lineup. Outside hitters will include junior Sasha Hopfauf and freshman MacKenzie Higlin, with sophomore Hannah Hanson in the middle. Alison Froelich will see time at defensive specialist and Miranda Lowman at setter and as a utility hitter. Both are sophomores.
“Our biggest strength is scrappiness,” Folk said. “They are determined not to let a ball drop, and they are working their tails off to get every touch they can. … I’m excited to play some real matches to see where they stack up.”