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BBE still seeking first win

Putting all regular-season successes aside, the state volleyball tournament has not been kind to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.

The Jaguars (30-1) will look for their first win in their state tournament history today when they take on Martin County West (24-6-1) in a Class A quarterfinal at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

BBE lost twice in its initial state tournament appearance in 2005, then dropped two more matches last season.

"There's a different atmosphere this year," said BBE coach Kevin Weller. "The girls are taking a different attitude in practice this week."

Working in the Jaguars' favor is the new ranking system. The coaches for the eight teams ranked each other over the internet, with the top four teams receiving seeds. BBE is No. 3. The remaining teams were blindly drawn to create bracket.

"It's a good honor. Hopefully, it means you have a decent draw," Weller said. "But every team that is there is a good team. If we're No. 3, other teams are looking to knock us off."

Defending champion Bethlehem Academy (22-9) is the No. 1 and last year's runner-up, Windom Area (31-3) is No. 2. Ada-Borup (30-1) rounds out the ranked teams with the fourth seed.

The Jaguars bring back four players that saw time in last year's state tournament. All are now seniors. Heidi Lensing, a 5-foot-11 middle hitter, leads the team with 375 kills. She was a first-team All-Area selection last season.

Emily Roelike, a 5-6 outside hitter, is second on the team with 220 kills. Ashley Serbus, a 5-7 outside hitter, is fourth with 112 kills. Jenny Hieserich, a 5-5 defensive specialist, leads the team with 41 ace serves.

"We have our top two hitters back from last year, but they are running with a sophomore setter (Julie Hieserich)," Weller said. "Our back row play is a lot better this year. We always go into a match saying we need to play defense and pass better."

After watching other teams in the state tournament last year, Weller said his players realized there was still a lot of room for improvement.

"We decided last year we needed to get stronger, more aggressive and play better defense at the state tournament," he said. "We started lifting weights this year, running a little more and running a quicker offense."

Loaded at the top

The top three seeds in the tournament have lots of recent experience. No. 1 Bethlehem Academy, the defending champion, has played in the last six championship matches, winning three and all in odd-numbered years.

No. 2 Windom Area was the state runner-up last season. After BBE, the rest of the field didn't qualify for last year's tournament.

"For us, it's huge," Weller said of the previous state tournament experience. "We know what the atmosphere is like now. If we can get by that first round, Windom will be very hungry. Bethlehem Academy's record speaks for themselves. If you look at their schedule, they've been playing the tough competition all season long."