Shortly after capturing the Region 7 title and a second consecutive birth in the North Dakota Class B Volleyball State Tournament, Dickinson Trinity wasted little time getting back to work.
Less than 24 hours after their celebration ended and the lights inside of the Knights of Columbus Activities Center dimmed, the Titans gathered for a practice on Friday, Nov. 9, as coaches and players alike made it a point to quickly move ahead to future business at hand.
"I think we all knew that we needed to focus right away. We weren't taking that practice for granted just because we won," Titans senior outside hitter Farrah Zeller said. "We wanted to get right back at it and prepare ourselves for the next week."
Earlier that morning before their practice got underway, the Titans learned that they were the tournament's fifth seed, earning a date against Region 3 champion and No. 4 seed Oakes in a quarterfinal nightcap on Thursday, Nov. 15, from the Minot State Dome.
"As soon as we found out that we drew Oakes, us coaches took the opportunity to try and get film on them and get as many notes as possible so we could be fully prepared into this weekend," Titans head coach Breanna Sisson said.
The Tornadoes are one of two tournament teams Dickinson Trinity (37-5) did not compete against this season. The quarterfinal opponents last did battle against Trinity during the Valley City Optimist Tournament on Sept. 16, 2017, with the Titans escaping with a narrow 25-22, 24-26 victory.
Making its first state tournament appearance since 2005, Oakes enters this matchup with a 31-7 record this season. The Tornadoes are led by senior middle blocker Marisa Garza and junior outside Nicole Schmitz, two players Sisson says her squad needs to account for.
However, the Titans will be fighting more than their opponents on the floor.
After being in the state-tournament spotlight for the first time in their careers last season, some of the players admitted that it was, at times, overwhelming. For the eight players making their return appearance to the big stage, they understand the group has to overcome the bright lights to have any chance at doing damage this time around.
"The first time was a little scary. It was a new experience for us, we didn't really know what to expect," Zeller said. "This year, some of us know what state is like a little bit, but it's going to be nerve-wracking no matter what. ... I think that a lot of people have a lot of high expectations for us this year, so that's something that's always in the back of our head, but we just have to play our game and don't let that get to us."
When the players hit the floor on Thursday evening, it's hard to predict how they will react, but leading to that moment, Dickinson Trinity has transformed its mindset. Sophomore middle blocker Amaya Willer - one of the eight state returners - says the team is driven to reach its lofty goals.
"I hope we can come out as state champs, obviously," Willer said. "I just think that like last year, I don't want to say satisfied, but we were just happy getting to state. This year, we have higher expectations than we did last year. We aren't satisfied yet."
Clashing mostly during regular-season tournaments, Dickinson Trinity has compiled an 8-5 mark against all the teams in the bracket over past two seasons.
"It's going to take a lot of focus and a lot of communication. We've played some of these teams before, we know the level of play that's expected at the state tournament," Sisson said. "So if we can stay focused and put out our best effort the next three games, hopefully we can have a successful end to our season. They're happy to be there, but they want to go and compete, compete hard and do well."