The Dickinson High volleyball team is coming off a season where it finished with a 4-14 record in West Region play and 10-29 overall.
If the Midgets intend to make their first state tournament appearance since 2012, they will have to do so while facing some adversity at the beginning of the 2018 campaign.
For the second straight season, setter Lauren Jorda will begin the year at less than 100 percent health after recently having surgery for a lower-body injury. The disappointed senior will have to watch from the bench as she is expected to miss anywhere between two to six weeks.
"It's definitely sad knowing that it's my senior year and I'm out again with an injury," Jorda said. "I seem to be out for more than one occasion for volleyball. I was hoping to get through it, but I wasn't able to this time."
Sophomore Paige Balliet will see the majority of time at the setter position in Jorda's place with freshman Staci Kempenich expected to fill in as well.
"Right now, they lost their leader, so I'm really curious to see who will step up and say, 'Alright, I can lead this team,'" Dickinson head coach Jay Schobinger said. "Lauren, she has the most experienced, she's the team leader, so somebody has to step up. That's kind of what I'm looking for; I've got to find some kids who are willing to put this team on their shoulders and say 'Let's go.'"
The Midgets began their season with a 2-5 showing at the Bismarck Invitational Tournament. After going winless on Friday, Aug. 24, Dickinson split its four games the next day, which featured a 3-0 victory of Wahpeton and a 2-1 triumph over Fargo South.
"We didn't really know what to expect because we have a couple of young setters that never really set at this level. We were a little hot and cold, at times very pleased and times very frustrated," Schobinger said. "It was kind of a mixed bag, honestly. But we learned a lot with some young kids that realize the game is pretty fast at this level, that's going to be huge and important down the road."
Balliet paced the team in assists while junior defensive stopper Kendryn Bullinger, junior middle hitter Audrey Rodakowski and junior outside hitter Peyton Selle lead the Midgets in digs, blocks and kills, respectively.
The trio is joined by middle hitters Taylor Nelson and Madison Lindley to make up a junior class that has some experience on the court.
Sophomore middle hitter Brialle Praus, sophomore outside hitter Jace Bradley and freshman outside hitter Taya Hopfauf represent the youthful crop of players who will be looking to contribute offensively to a team that lost seniors to graduation.
After splitting time as a setter and defensive stopper last season, Madison Eckelberg will play primarily in the defensive stopper position. Eckelberg joins Jorda as the only seniors on the roster and plans to keep a positive in Jorda's absence.
"We'll need a lot of leadership and since there is only two of us, we really have to take on a big part of that and just try to have my best attitude everyday," Eckelberg said. "We just got to keep working our hardest and adjust because she is our setter. We just have to work on that and do our best to have a good attitude."
While she won't be able to suit up as the team will return to Bismarck High for a regular season contest against the Demons, Jorda has been a vocal advocate from the sideline during practice, assisting the young setters and helping with instruction, and shouting out words of encourage to the rest of the team.
"They complain about how it's going to be different and how it's going to be harder without having a leader on the court and everything, but I've just been saying, 'Keep your heads high and push through it,'" Jorda said. "We did lose a lot last year, but we are hoping to give it our all, every game and every practice. Just got to make sure that we have fun, keep our heads high, work on everything we have to work on and leave a good starting point for next year."