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Faulkton back at state tourney following one-year absence

Faulkton’s Kelli Stoecker, right, reaches to hit the ball as Hitchcock-Tulare’s Katelyn Schroeder, left and Isabel Gilbert, center, defend the net during last week's SoDak 16 match at Northwestern High School in Mellette. Looking on in the background at far right is Faulkton’s Carley Cotton. Faulkton meets Chester Area in the opening round of the state tournament on Thursday in Rapid City. Photo by John Davis taken 11/7/2023

The Faulkton volleyball team is hungry for another chance at a state tournament.

The Trojans are back in the Class B state tournament after qualifying for four consecutive years from 2018-2021, but missing the tournament last season.

Faulkton coach Mallory Schlechter said the team is motivated to play in the state tournament.

“Most of our girls this year, other than three of them, have really never played in a state tournament. They were more just on the bench or just a part of the team, but not necessarily in a role where they were playing,” Schlechter said. “For the ones that had made a state tournament, obviously that was their big mission. For the other ones, they just wanted the experience for the first time. They’ve kind of seen it from the sidelines and they’re really hungry for the opportunity to play themselves.”

The Trojans had a rocky start to the season, beginning the year 7-5, including a stretch where they lost four out of six matches. Schlechter said the team has improved throughout the course of the season and now takes a 24-9 record into the state tourney.

“We started out ok, but it was a little shaky at times,” Schlechter said. “It was kind of feeling like we couldn’t finish in big games. We would hang with people, but we just couldn’t really find the finish. As the season has progressed, we’ve really started to click and come together, and I would say we’re playing our best volleyball right now.”

After the 7-5 start, Faulkton made changes in its lineup, which sparked a second-half surge.

“I guess we just switched things around; not so much changes in personnel, but just changes in where we had our personnel at,” Schlechter said. “Making a few of those changes helped kind of find that balance. People got more used to each other. Now that we’ve found that balance, we play really well together.”

Another key to the success this season has been the Trojans’ defense, as well as hitting on offense.

“We’ve had a really strong defensive effort. We just have a lot of girls that can keep the ball alive and just keep it in play,” Schlechter said. “And then we just have quite a few hitting options that we are able to use.”

Some of those options have come from players such as outside hitters Addison Melius and Carley Cotton, who have provided the ability to play at multiple positions throughout the season. However, Schlechter said other players have made it a full team effort.

“This season we’ve had our middles step up really big as we’ve been coming towards the end of the season,” Schlechter said. “They just get a lot of touches on balls that are coming over the net. Carley and (Addison) are probably our main two, but everybody else really contributes in different ways.”

Faulkton’s Micah Martinmaas looks to serve the ball during last week’s SoDak 16 match against Hitchcocl-Tulare at Northwestern High School in Mellette. Photo by John Davis taken 11/7/2023

The Trojans will take on second-seeded Chester Area in the first round of the Class B tournament on Thursday. Schlechter noted that the Flyers are always a strong team come state tournament time.

“They always have a really good lineup of girls that are strong in all areas,” Schlechter said. “They have good hitters, they have good defenders, they have great setters; you know, a little bit of everything.”

Schlechter said being strong defensively will be a key for the Trojans against Chester Area.

“We just know that going out we’re going to have to be really strong defensively,” Schlechter said. “I think the biggest thing about Chester is they never really let the ball hit the ground and they have a lot of hitting options, so we’re just going to have to be ready to defend from every angle.”

Faulkton and Chester Area will play at 5 p.m. (MST) at the Summit Arena.

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