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St. Michael-Albertville Volleyball Begins Section Tournament

A mix of upstart talent and experience have the Knights hoping for a shot at state.

The St. Michael-Albertville volleyball team pounced on a second opportunity to battle the Buffalo Bison earlier this month, and topped BHS in four games to earn another share of the Mississippi 8 Conference Championship. 

That makes nine straight years with a share of the title, or the outright championship. 

But for Canidce Yager and her teammates, it's just a piece of a greater puzzle. 

"You don't want to be the team to break that streak, but it's not the only goal that's out there for us," Yager said. "We really feel like we could do more."

For the Knights, the Section 5-3A tournament has been a tough row to hoe since the girls were bumped up to the state's top class. 

This year, however, STMA has earned the No. 3 seed. That means they'll open the tournament tonight, at home, against Centennial. 

"We haven't had a chance to see as many teams, because we went through that conference lineup twice and we just didn't run into section opponents at tournaments, or whatever," said coach Ryan Dehnel. "But if you look at common opponents and what we've been able to do lately as a team, we think that if we show up and play our game, we should be able to compete in this section." 

At the top, of course, is Blaine High School, one of the top teams in the state this season and a squad the Knights have now seen twice. 

In tournament play, Blaine dominated with a 2-0 win. Last week, however, the Knights closed the regular season with a 3-0 loss that was much more respectable. 

"We have young players now that have come such a long way," said senior hitter Jennifer Olejar.

"They're playing more like upperclassmen. The jitters are gone," added middle Becky Hackenmueller. 

Leading that youth movement is Malissa LeClaire, who has stepped up as a setter. Other sophomores are contributing on defense. 

"Everyone we've asked to step up has really grown, and done a good job. It's come a long way since day one," Dehnel said. 

The Knights and Cougars square off at 7 p.m. tonight at the high school gym. 

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