Question marks, question marks, question marks.
When two-time defending state champion Century started volleyball practice in August, Katelyn Selensky was the only player with significant varsity time on whom the Patriots could count. Unknowns abounded.
However, there weren't as many question marks inside the gym as outside.
"I thought we'd be OK," said 5-foot-9 CHS senior hitter Megan Anderson. "I've known these girls since the second or third grade. Most of the team went to Centennial (Elementary School) together. We knew the chemistry and potential we had."
"We've played basketball and volleyball together (at Horizon Middle School), and we've been on traveling teams together, so I've known these girls a long time," Anderson added.
CHS head coach Jamie Zastoupil said she had less concern entering the season than might have been expected. She said she'd watched many of the current Patriots play on the junior varsity for two years.
"I knew we'd be competitive. These girls played against that good team we had for two years in practice," Zastoupil said. "These kids haven't stepped on the court at a state tournament, but they were there when the others did, and I think that's a big factor."
She will soon find out. Century dives into the state tournament waters for the 30th time today at the Fargodome. The Patriots take on Devils Lake at 5 p.m. in the third quarterfinal match of the day.
Century, 31-8, is the top-seeded team from the West Region, courtesy of last week's victory over Jamestown in the championship match. Devils Lake, 21-14, is the No. 4 seed from the East Region.
The quarterfinal round begins at 1 p.m. with West Fargo, the top seed from the East Region at 32-1, meeting Mandan, 23-15.
Jamestown, the West's No. 2 seed at 32-5, faces Fargo Davies, 24-9, at 3 p.m.
Valley City, the No. 2 seed from the East at 21-11, plays the quarterfinal finale against Bismarck, 24-14, at 7 p.m.
Anderson, a first-year starter as a senior, has averaged 10.6 kills per match, second only to 6-4 sophomore Lauren Ware, who averages 12.2 kills and 2.8 blocks.
With rookies everywhere, confidence may have been an issue in the early going. However, Anderson said Century's strong start gave the newly-minted Patriots the knowledge that they could compete with the West's best teams.
Century went 3-4 in the season-opening Bismarck crossover tournament, but then reeled off 13 wins in its next 15 matches. In the process, the Patriots placed second to Billings, Mont., High School in the gold division of the Dickinson tournament.
"At the beginning of the season we had high expectations. Playing the better teams we all pulled together and got a glimpse of how good we could be," Anderson recalled.
Century passed a big test on Oct. 10 in a 3-2 home victory over Jamestown, the first regional loss for the Blue Jays.
The Patriots are now one of the four remaining Class A teams in the state with single-digit losses, behind West Fargo and Jamestown and ahead of Fargo Davies. West Fargo enters the state tournament riding the crest of a 25-match winning streak. Century is on an 11-match run after downing Jamestown 3-1 for the West Region tournament title.
Anderson said winning the West Region tournament gives the Patriots a springboard for the state tournament.
"Jamestown is a very, very good team. ... We split during the regular season, and (winning the regional championship) gives us a little more energy to achieve what we're capable of," she observed.
"We wanted to show how much fight we had and how much we'd improved. That tournament was a huge confidence booster for us," Anderson added.
Accomplishing the goal of a regional tournament title brings Century a step closer to the ultimate prize -- a third straight state championship. Anderson says the Patriots must raise the bar even higher to get there, though.
"There's always something we can improve on. In the end we want the big goal, but we have to reach little goals before the big one comes into the picture," Anderson noted. "We have to place the ball better and work at passing and hitting around the blocks. Communication is huge. So is keeping errors low, especially service errors."
Zastoupil agreed the Patriots are not yet where they need to be. She said the regional tournament was a mixed bag.
"I liked the guts and grit we showed ... but we can still clean up some things. We can be more consistent all the way across," she said.
Anderson said her impressive numbers are the product of a number of factors, including more precise hitting, a balanced attack and an improving dynamic between the setter, Selensky, and the hitters.
"Our setter trusts our hitters ... so the defense has to guess (the point of attack)," she said. "When we play other teams, we know exactly where they're going."
The trust factor has been a major factor as Century has improved by leaps and bounds.
"We've grown as a team together, and that's benefited us on and off the court," Anderson noted. "Everyone has a role, and as long as everyone plays her role we should be OK."
Century started the season with a strange mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors, all lacking varsity experience. Then a freshman, 5-10 Julia Fitterer, was thrown into the cauldron at mid-season. Nontheless, leaders have emerged, according to Zastoupil.
"We're seeing leadership, and not just from the seniors," the coach said, taking note of Ware's contributions. "We're seeing leadership in the back row, and not just the blockers. The defense is moving and shifting as one."
Four returning all-state players will appear in the tournament -- Darian Chwialkowski and Tianna Pfaff of West Fargo, and Megan Gaffaney and Hannah Schiele of Jamestown. ... Gaffaney and Chwialkowski were named this season's outstanding senior athletes in their regions. ... Century has appeared in the last six state championship matches, winning in 2012 in addition to the last two seasons. ... Only four teams in the state tournament field have won state championships. Century has five titles and Bismarck two (1985 and 2010). West Fargo won in 2001 and Jamestown was the 2013 champion. ... West Fargo and Jamestown have the best inter-regional records, 9-0 and 10-2, respectively. ... West Fargo has a 10-1 record against the other state tournament qualifiers, it's only loss at Valley City. The Packers haven't seen Jamestown, however. ... Jamestown is 9-2 against the tournament field. ... Grand Forks Red River, an eight-time state champion, is missing from the state tournament for the first time since 2006.