Stealing the starlight
BOTTINEAU – Jessica Fritz moved briskly back to the Bottineau High School gym following a statement win over the Stars on Oct. 9.
Fritz, the Rugby High School volleyball coach, was propelled by the elation of seeing her team complete a perfect 6-0 regular season District 11 run. She also was shaking off a chill from the celebratory cooler bath the players met her with in the locker room.
The Panthers, an inconsistent and middle-of-the-pack squad in 2013, had cemented themselves as the district’s standard bearer this year.
“What’s really nice is this is where we’re going to play for districts,” Fritz said.
Teams still have to wrap up regular season non-district play before the district tournament at Bottineau on Oct. 30-31 and Nov. 3. The 3-1 win (23-25, 25-12, 25-22. 25-11) clinched a first-round bye in the tournament of seven teams.
The Stars rallied from a 6-point deficit midway through the first set and trailed 23-20 before rattling off five points in a row to win the opener and put pressure on RHS (22-7 overall).
The Panthers responded in near-dominant fashion, thumping BHS (13-15, 3-2) in the second and fourth sets, and gritting out the third. Coaches were unsure if RHS ever won the regular season before.
RHS senior hitter ReeAnn Christianson, who led the team with three blocks, was everywhere early. Christianson proved a force at the net with her attack and deception on a couple pushed returns that caught BHS off guard. A Christianson kill followed a pair of aces from teammate Elizabeth Blessum to set up set point in the second.
“She didn’t let anything past her,” Fritz said of Christianson. “She served well, blocked well and hit well, and really got us in the right direction.”
Christianson’s combination of craft and relentlessness fired the Panthers up at pivotal moments.
“I just like to be really loud,” Christianson said. “I wouldn’t think I’m a motivator. Our junior high girls motivate us. They’re the best.”
A large RHS student following made the trip north, providing an exciting environment often favoring the Panthers.
A 7-0 run in the second set proved frustrating for the Stars, last year’s district tournament champions. The Panthers finished on a 5-0 run.
“They served well,” Bottineau coach Steve Dunrud said. “We didn’t pass very well. Two of the games we played right with ’em and two of the games they outplayed us in all aspects.”
The Panthers found serving consistency through a handful of players, including senior Darby Deckert, who found success in all four sets. Deckert served on a 6-0 runs in the first, second and third.
“I’ve been struggling with my serve most of the season,” Deckert said. “I just wanted to get it over and in. I just wanted to help my team and those serves that hit the net really hurt.”
RHS didn’t see too many of those off their hands. Bottineau had to contend with a variety of serves, including Blessum’s wicked jump serve, which spun down hard.
Blessum and senior Emily Stier led the Panthers with five kills each. Junior setter Shea Heidlebaugh had 20 assists, Deckert led both teams with 23 digs.
Bottineau’s Stephanie Brenden had a match-high 15 kills and Baylee Grenier had a match-high 30 assists.
The win on Bottineau hardwood doesn’t guarantee tournament success for RHS and the Stars are still expected to be a tough out. Dunrud sees an open tournament in two weeks.
“We went five games with Sawyer, (Rugby) went five games with Sawyer,” Dunrud said.
Panthers take third in Carrington
RHS took third in the Carrington tournament Oct. 11. The Panthers went 2-1 in pool play with convincing wins over Strasburg-Zeeland (25-16, 25-23) and Devils Lake JV (25-9, 25-20). The host Cardinals humbled RHS with a 25-10, 25-8 rout to conclude pool play.
RHS rebounded with a win over Benson County in the quarterfinals. LaMoure beat Rugby in a semifinal match, before dropping the championship 2-1 to Carrington.
The Panthers beat New Rockford-Sheyenne in three sets to finish third in the tournament. RHS won 25-17, 14-25, 15-13.
Panthers beat Hornets in 5
RHS had to grind one out in a five-set win over Harvey-Wells County on Tuesday. The non-district match played to scores of 14-25, 25-21, 25-17, 19-25, 15-11.
Christianson played well and led the Panthers with nine kills. Alecia Leier and Alyssa Mattern had huge defensive efforts with 28 and 22 digs, respectively.
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