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Montevideo's rookie credentials include 24-match winning streak

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With last year's finalists (Lake of the Woods and Stewartville) meeting in the first round, two 30-1 teams (Jordan and St. Cloud Cathedral) squaring off in another quarterfinal match and a team riding a 24-match winning streak, this year's Class AA State Volleyball Tournament field is one of the strongest in recent memory.

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Montevideo, which hasn't lost since Sept. 9, should be considered a contender for the title even though the Thunder Hawks (26-2) are making their first-ever appearance at state. The first test for the Section 6AA champion is today at 5 p.m. as Montevideo will meet Pipestone Area (21-8) in the quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

The Arrows are making their second straight appearance and fourth overall, something first-year Montevideo coach Joanna Naumann says Pipestone could benefit from.

"They are a very experienced team and it's a nice feather in your hat saying that you've been there before, but once you get to the state tournament its anybody's match."

Pipestone is also battle-tested, evidenced by its tough schedule that featured Marshall and Wayzata -- two entrants in the Class AAA tournament -- and unbeaten Minneota, a favorite to win the Class A title. Even though Pipestone lost to those three teams, Arrows coach Todd Texley said the team learned a lot from the setbacks.

"Those matches were earlier in the year and we were in them at the end, giving the girls confidence that they can go up against anyone," said Texley, whose team won the consolation title last year. "I think the only reason we lost those matches was that the other teams had more depth."

The Arrows might not have a lot of depth, but they do have a strong starting lineup that has five players with a 100-or-more kills on the year, led by All-State hitter Nicole Buysse's 332.

"We have five good hitters and spread the ball around, making it tough for defenses to key on just one player," said Texley.

Montevideo has just senior Brook Moseng (229) and junior Taylor Skoglund (225) in its starting lineup that have over 100 kills, but what opponents have a tough time dealing with is the Thunder Hawks' defense.

"We have a very quick defense and I'm hoping that some of our front row players can get some blocks so our defense won't get tired out," said Naumann. "We'll have to rely on everyone to do their part."

That trust in one another has allowed Montevideo to piece together a long winning streak.

"We have fun playing together, smiling and high-fiving each other" said Montevideo senior setter Dani Jensen, who has 370 assists. "We're excited to be (at the state tournament) and overall we just want to have a good experience. We will play our hearts out, though."

One thing Naumann and Texley can agree on is that it's anybody's tournament.

"Right now I would have to say Lake of the Woods is the favorite because they are the defending champion," said Texley. "But it's wide open."

On paper one might not give Montevideo a chance, but its balanced attack has snuck up on teams throughout the year.

"We have a lot of worker bees," said Naumann. "We don't have big guns and we don't have a huge stud. We have a bunch of pretty good studs that are enthusiastic and won't let anything hit the floor."

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