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District win builds Panther volleyball confidence

October 11, 2019
Sue Sitter - Tribune Reporter , Pierce County Tribune

If a grueling loss at the Laker Invitational Tournament at Des Lacs-Burlington High School last weekend wore down Rugby High School's Lady Panthers, it didn't show in Tuesday's home win against the Velva Aggies.

"I'm pretty sure they're still exhausted from the weekend," Varsity Coach Jessica Fritz said of the Des-Lacs Burlington tournament. "It was pretty intense; it was a close game."

However, Tuesday's match in Rugby High School's gym seemed easy for the Panthers.

Article Photos

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN
Rugby volleyball players celebrate after scoring a point against Our Redeemer's during Saturday's Laker Invite in Des Lacs.

The visiting Aggies weren't about to be labeled pushovers, of course. They made it known they had come to play and wouldn't give away points without a fight.

The Lady Panthers started strong with three unanswered points in the first game on serves by Sarah Blessum.

After the Aggies' sideout, the Panthers continued their blitz toward win number one, until Velva put a temporary stop to their momentum with another sideout and point.

Fact Box


Ahead of a challenge, Panthers net another volleyball win

By Sue Sitter

Tribune Reporter

Rugby High School's Lady Panthers added another "W" to their 9-0 record last Thursday in Westhope, fine-tuning their footwork and kill skills ahead of a challenging tournament at Des Lacs-Burlington last weekend.

"We spent a lot of time yesterday working on communication," Coach Jessica Fritz told the Tribune after three fast-paced games in the Westhope High School gym against the Lady Eagles. "We worked on some footwork things as far as our blocking goes, and we did some things that got those things solidified for us a little bit more."

The Lady Panthers made their win against Newburg-Westhope look easy, leaping far ahead in each game and keeping a commanding lead in each of three games. The entire match took just about an hour to complete and no JV games started the evening off.

After a quick 25-12 victory in the first game, Rugby appeared ready to shut the Lady Eagles out completely in the second game as Brooke Blessum and Kelly Swanson covered the front row with blocks and kills.

The score climbed to 13-0 before a Panther net serve gave the Lady Eagles a point and a sideout, and another Panther error put another Eagle point on the board. A Bella McCabe kill and a Brooke Blessum service ace boosted the Panther lead to 17-2, while the Eagles struggled, sometimes sending volleys bouncing into the stands.

Another Panther net serve gave the Eagles a brief 22-3 reprieve, and a service ace by Eagle Emmie Thompson narrowed the gap to 22-4.

After a Panther sideout and an ace by McCabe put Rugby within one point of a win, an out of bounds serve and a missed Panther hit kept the Eagles alive with a 24-6 deficit. Two more Eagle returns sent Panthers diving and missing the ball, but a return by McCabe put the game away for Rugby with a final 25-8 score.

The third game saw a rare misfire by Brooke Blessum when her kill attempt went into the net, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Brooke Blessum redeemed the Panthers with a kill for the next point, and the Panthers pulled ahead again, maintaining their lead.

The Eagles managed to take advantage of Panther misses, and some Eagle hits had Panthers diving to the floor. Double hits and out of bounds Panther serves also helped Newburg-Westhope, but Rugby stayed far ahead, thanks to assists from Sarah Blessum and digs by Brooke Anderson.

The Eagles didn't give up the fight, however.

The Eagles kept on a steady course, battling for 17 points. One Eagle return sent Brooke Blessum and other Panther hitters on a collision course, narrowing the Panther lead toward the end to 23-15 before the Panthers answered back with a block of their own. Another Panther net ball before game point gave the Eagles a sliver of hope, and a long rally had both teams giving their all before Aly Mundahl found a gap in the Newburg-Westhope defense to end the game for the Panthers, 25-17.

Fritz predicted a challenge for the Panthers at the DLB tourney. "We'll see a lot of our region teams there. Those are always tough teams for us," she said. "In our bracket, we're going to play Beulah, Park River, Central Cass and Carrington. So, our pool play is going to be tough, but we're also hoping to watch some of the teams from our region: Our Redeemer's, DLB; I believe Minot Ryan's there again just some of these teams that we don't get to watch very often. So, we're kind of just going to learn and play and take it all in."

Stats for the game were:

Panther Kills: Brooke Blessum, 12, Swanson, 6; Assists: Sarah Blessum, 30; Aces: McCabe, 3; Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 4; Digs: Brooke Anderson, 3.

Newburg-Westhope Eagle Kills: Jazmine Solis, 6; Assists, Ellie Braaten, 7; Aces: Emmie Thompson, 3; Blocks: Thompson, 1; Digs: Thompson, 3.

The Panthers answered right back with a Brooke Blessum kill to the outside corner of the Aggies' side of the court.

The Aggies tried to rally again at an 11-3 Panther lead, but Rugby took control again when the scoreboard read 11-7 with an ace to continue their drive.

The Aggies managed nine more points for the rest of the game, but the Panthers never loosened their grip on their lead, and Game No. 1 ended with a 25-16 Rugby win.

The second game of the match saw the Panthers' confidence increase, while the Aggies struggled to regroup from the first and fight on.

The Panthers leaped out in front early and with an ace from Brooke Blessum and kills from Isabella McCabe, the Panthers held a commanding 9-4 lead before long. A strategic Aggie tip caught the Panthers unaware, but an Aggie rally never materialized, and the Panthers marched toward a win until an Aggie sideout narrowed their lead a bit at 12-6. A hard-fought rally by both sides resulted in a catch error by the Panthers, and the Aggies sank a return that had Panthers diving to the floor.

A kill by McCabe kept the Panthers far out in front, and Rugby held the Aggies to nine points overall, ending Game No. 2 with a 25-16 win.

Game #3 seemed destined to be another Panther rout, but the Aggies fought hard for more points of their own.

However, the Panthers countered with devastating hits and blocks, and strong digs from Brooke Blessum and Kelly Swanson kept Rugby out in front.

Any fatigue on the Panther side may have shown in a few errors in Game No. 3, but the Aggies struggled more, with serves and return attempts ricocheting out of bounds. A Brooke Anderson kill wrapped up the third win for the Panthers with a score of 25-15.

"We came in ready to play," Fritz said of Tuesday's game. "We knew we had two more district games and we wanted to be the regular season champions. We had to come in tonight and play really hard, and then we have one more game for the district play Bottineau."

When asked if the tough DLB tournament last weekend provided a glimpse of region and state competition, Fritz said, "You know, we played a lot of tough teams. We played some of the tougher teams in our region, too. We played Our Redeemers we lost a close one to them. We kind of know what we need to work on to become better."

Fritz said the Panthers' strategy would start with a wrap-up of district games.

"We should be good for districts, and then we can start playing the rest of our games and be confident and know we can do it," Fritz said.

Stat totals for Tuesday's game were:

Rugby: Kills: Brooke Blessum, 14, Anderson, 8 and McCabe, 8. Service Aces: Sarah Blessum, 3; Brooke Blessum, 3. Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 2. Digs: Brooke Blessum, 14, Swanson, 8. Assists: Sarah Blessum, 34.

Velva: Kills: Camryn Volk, 4; Kaitlyn Lund, 3. Service Aces: Grace Pfennig, 2; Sophie Hackman, 1. Blocks: Rylee Frantsen, 1; Hackman, 1. Digs: Madison Effertz, 15; Pfennig, 13. Assists: Effertz, 3; Jade Lohnes, 3.



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