Panthers finding form
Beating Bottineau didn’t happen last year, so the Rugby High School volleyball team wasted little time setting a different tone against its rival this season.
The Panthers, employing a new defensive strategy, beat the Stars 2-1 (25-22, 26-28, 15-11) to advance to the championship of Bottineau’s own tournament Sept. 6. RHS dropped the championship to defending Region 6 champion Mohall-Lansford Sherwood (25-18, 25-23), but gained needed confidence.
“We had a great weekend,” RHS coach Jessica Fritz said. “The girls played together as a team, which was nice to see this early in the season. It was a different energy level agains Bottineau.”
Fritz said her team made smarter decisions against Bottineau and reacted instead of overthinking.
Senior outside hitter Emily Stier led the Panthers with 27 kills in the tournament, which included pool-play splits (wins on points) with Harvey-Wells County (25-13, 23-25) and Westhope-Newburg (25-14, 23-25). The team received a first-round bye and beat Surrey 2-0 (25-15, 25-13).
“For one, we have a lot of energy when we play Bottineau, especially after last year,” Stier said. “We really had the want and we were communicating.”
Seniors Darby Deckert and Elizabeth Blessum finished the tournament with 19 kills each and classmate ReeAnn Christianson had 18. Junior Shea Heidlebaugh led the team with 17 aces, including 10 in one match.
“It just seems like we were hitting a lot better,” Heidlebaugh said. “We moved better. Our new defense is a lot better after working on it.”
Heidlebaugh also is the team’s setter and racked up 77 assists.
The Panthers moved to 4-3 overall with a 3-0 win at St. John on Tuesday. The match wasn’t much of a contest as RHS won 25-8, 25-11 and 25-5. Heidlebaugh had a team-high 15 assists and Blessum recorded 10 aces.
RHS hosted Benson County on Thursday and play at the Glenburn Invitational today. ?