BROOTEN — With the final practice at home Tuesday, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa got tropical.
On Fridays, the Jaguars kept things light through the season with themed dress-up practices.
With a banquet Wednesday and a Class A quarterfinal match with third-seeded Medford at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center, Tuesday was the last chance to be wacky with a Hawaiian theme, complete with tropical colors and leis around either the players’ necks or as headbands.
It’s something Steve Waddell, in his first year as BBE’s head coach, brought over from his time as the head coach at Melrose.
“We did Christmas one day. We did camo and blaze orange,” Waddell said while sporting a shirt with a coconut drink print over the breast pocket. “We had state shirts last week, pajamas, neon and tie-dye day.
“Volleyball is a game where they have to get along with one another. So my philosophy is a lot of team bonding stuff and doing off-the-court stuff that’s not necessarily touching the ball, passing, setting or hitting. To me, it works wonders. It helps the kids understand each other a lot more and that helps in the long run. … It makes it fun for the kids.”
And, it’s a practice that resonated with the players as they gear up for the state tournament.
“It helps loosen us up and gets us excited,” said junior setter Karsee Kampsen.
BBE (23-8) is coming into the tournament as an unseeded team and knows the Tigers (24-8) are the team with higher expectations. The Jaguars hope those expectations can play to their advantage.
“We’re definitely going to have to come out with a lot of energy,” Kampsen said. “We’re just really thankful to be there and we’re ready to play.”
And with the way the Jaguars made state in the first place — by coming back from a 14-9 fifth-set deficit against Walker-Hackensack-Akeley in the Section 5A championship — BBE feels it comes into state with plenty of momentum.
“It was crazy and I’ll be honest: I was on the bench and I thought it was over,” senior middle hitter Brittany Berge said about the section win. “I was trying to overcome the fact we were done. You don’t see teams come back from that point.”
Berge continued, “After that match, it’s really given us confidence and makes us excited to go back and see what we can do. It shows that any team can do it. We can be a big upset at state, too.”
While they’ll be across the court from Medford on Thursday, the Jaguars hope to emulate the kind of run the Tigers had last year. As an unseeded team in 2018, Medford beat second-seeded Mayer Lutheran in five sets, then toppled third-seeded BBE in four sets to reach the state finals where they ultimately fell to No. 1 Minneota.
“We’re hoping to get some revenge,” Kampsen said with a laugh.
A lot of that core is back and the Tigers are playing solid volleyball. Medford is on a seven-match win streak and hasn’t lost since Oct. 12.
“They’re pretty much the same team they had last year,” Waddell said. “They graduated one or two. They’re big hitters, they’re very well-coached. Any team that comes out of Section 1 is solid. Volleyball down there is ridiculous.”
Some of the BBE players, including Berge and Kampsen, had a chance to face Medford during summer volleyball. While the Jaguars lost 2-1 in that offseason match, it did offer a bit of a scouting report.
“They definitely have a well-rounded team,” Kampsen said. “They have a very good middle and their setter is pretty good. And their back row is really decent, too.”
“They have some pretty good players that we’ll have to fight through,” Berge said. “If we play well and start out on a run, I think we can totally do it.”
With the tables turned and the Tigers as the favorite on paper, the Jaguars hope they’re able to stay loose like they were able to during practice Tuesday. Minus the Hawaiian get-ups.
“We have nothing to lose and everything to gain right now,” Waddell said. “If we go down there and play really well and hang with them, great. If we lose to them but lose by less than what we did last year, that’s success to me, too. This is an exciting time and we’d like to make some noise down there but whatever happens happens now.”
Class A state pairings
(At the Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul)
No. 1 Minneota (30-3) vs. Greenway (26-4), 1 p.m. on Court 2
No. 4 Mounds Park Academy (25-4) vs. No. 5 Fosston (28-6), 1 p.m. on Court 1
No. 2 Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (32-2) vs. Henning (24-7), 3 p.m. on Court 2
No. 3 Medford (24-8) vs. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (23-8), 3 p.m. at Court 1