"Last year it was just kind of unexpected," senior Ryan Jensen said. "This year we were kind of expected to get back down there. It feels a lot more comfortable this year I think."
Stanberry's found comfort in their current 24-game win streak that's carried them to Columbia for a second year in a row. But ranked fourth in the state, the Dawgs are getting each team's best shot every night.
"I was afraid that it was going to catch up to us at one time," senior Nate Luke said. "Everybody's out to get us every night, but we took the pressure on and just played our game."
Now with only four teams still alive, Stanberry's not the favorite for the first time this season.
"All year we've kind of had that target on our back, and I feel like we're the underdog finally," head coach Nick Groomer said. "We were so comfortable being the underdog last year with nothing to lose. I feel like in this game we've got nothing to lose. There's not a lot of people that expect us to win."
The Bulldogs matchup with Scott County Central in the semifinal. The Braves are making their sixth appearance in Columbia over the last seven years, and they've won a Missouri record 16 state championships.
"We've seen some good teams this year, but this is a pretty high-caliber team, so we just have to be ready for them," Jensen said.
Groomer's looking forward to the opportunity to upend one of the state's top teams.
"We're playing a storied program who's been there way more than we have. It'd be kind of nice to be one of those teams that gets to knock them off."
Stanberry will get its chance in the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena -- a building that makes the Bulldogs feel like they're not too far from home.
"It's not all new to us," junior Isaac Heddinger said. "We've played down there, we've practiced down there. Going down there and seeing black and gold, it feels like we're at home."
The Bulldogs are hoping for an advantage over a program that's made Columbia it's second home each March throughout the years.
And after a 40-year drought between its first two state appearances, Stanberry's savoring each chance it gets.
"It's been a dream come true," Groomer said, "and I hope we keep dreaming."
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