For Thompson senior Kenzie Hughes, this weekend will mark her fourth-straight trip to the North Dakota state Class B volleyball tournament.
Hughes, however, is one of the few exceptions for the Tommies when it comes to a state-tested background.
"I knew it was going to be a big change this year and that there wasn't going to be a lot of varsity experience," said Hughes, whose team finished fifth at the state tournament in 2019. Of Thompson's top 10 in the regular rotation in 2019, six were seniors.
But the retooled lineup -- led by the versatility of Hughes -- has cruised through the season with a 21-1 record and a No. 2 seed in the state tournament at the Fargodome. The Tommies will play Flasher at 10 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
"She's an outstanding athlete," Thompson coach Lisa Strand said of Hughes. "Whatever we ask of her, she usually comes through."
Hughes, a 5-foot-5 setter, has a stronger net presence than her height would suggest.
"She reaches high when she hits," Strand said. "Some girls don't extend their arms all the way when they swing. She does a nice job of extension. She has the ability to jump-set and that's helpful, too."
Hughes has played for the Tommies in each of the last four state tournament runs. She started as a defensive specialist as a freshman before settling into the setting role as a sophomore, a year in which the Tommies won a state title. The past two years, Hughes has done it all -- set, hit and block.
"Kenzie is very athletic-minded, so she's definitely a student of the game and watches film," Strand said. "She knows what we expect from her as a setter. She makes good choices on the court. She's a great leader. The girls look up to her."
In a two-setter offense, Hughes has 431 assists this year. She also has 207 digs, 179 kills and a team-high 56 service aces.
During Hughes' career, she's accumulated 1,643 assists, 1,013 digs, 512 kills and 189 aces.
One of her advantages is being left-handed.
"It's not necessarily very common ... as a coach, to have one, we're ecstatic," Strand said.
Hughes said blockers don't expect left-handed attacks.
"It throws off the other team," she said. "We have two right-side hitters, and we're both left-handed and that's pretty rare in high school. If definitely gives us an advantage."
Senior Lexi Telehey, who has signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at Lake Region, leads the Thompson hitters with 274 kills. Senior Maddie Stefonowicz has 162 kills, while junior Mya Krogstad has 152 and senior Jada Welke has 100.
The Tommies' first-round opponent, Flasher, is led by the senior duo of Tymber Boldt and Faith Marion. Boldt has 167 kills and 31 blocks, while Marion has 149 kills, 40 service aces, 88 digs and 16 blocks.
"We just need to take it game-by-game," Hughes said. "There'll nerves for the first set. A lot of the girls haven't experienced state because they're younger. We need to go out and not worry about every mistake and go out and have fun. We play our best when we're having fun."
Thompson vs. Flasher, 10 a.m.
Head coach: Lisa Strand
Players to watch: Lexi Telehey, 5-6, Sr., 274 kills, 253 digs; Kenzie Hughes, 5-5, Sr., 179 kills, 431 assists, 207 digs; Madeleine Stefonowicz, 6-0, Sr., 162 kills; Libby Koerber, 5-7, Jr., 306 assists, 106 digs; Mya Krogstad, 5-7, Jr., 152 kills, 242 digs, 38 aces; Bailey Munson, 5-5, Jr., 330 digs; Jada Welke, 5-7, Sr., 100 kills, 91 digs.
State tournament titles: 1997, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2018.
Head coach: Jerlyn Gabrielson
Players to watch: Tymber Boldt, Sr., 167 kills, 98 digs, 31 blocks; Faith Marion, Sr., 149 kills, 40 service aces, 88 digs, 16 blocks; Leandra Schmidt, Sr., 71 kills, 60 digs; Peyton Black, Sr., 35 service aces; Jayden Miller, Soph., 22 service aces; Mckenzee Doepke, Jr., 393 assists.
State tournament titles: None