Side by side: Sisters set for success
No matter what happens during the postseason, the Rugby High School volleyball program expects to be a viable entity for a long time to come. A large part of the raised expectations are based on the strong interest in the sport being passed from sister to sister.
The program currently has seven sets of sisters with some elementary girls not far off.
“We play other towns, and you think, ‘Gosh, didn’t that one graduate?’ and it’s not that (girl), but a younger sister,” RHS seventh-year coach Jessica Fritz said. “I’m glad we’re going to have that. It’s gonna be nice to be that town that has the continuance of family name.”
The sister combinations include: the Blessums, senior Elizabeth and eight-grader Maria; the Christiansons, senior ReeAnn and seventh-grader Danielle; the Heidlebaughs, junior Shea and seventh-grader Katie; the Leiers, senior Alicia and eighth-grader Brianna; the Mahles, junior Kaycee and seventh-grader Emma; the Stiers, senior Emily, freshman Sara and eighth-grader Anni; the Vetschs, freshman Christine and eighth-grader Holly.
One theme through the list is an upperclassman with a younger sister in junior high. The junior high group is a loud mainstay at the varsity matches, adding loads of energy to the gym as they learn the sport and support family. Other girls not yet playing volleyball have a reason to at least explore the sport after seeing many peers cheering the team on a weekly basis.
“That’s a big thing we’ve noticed,” Fritz said. “We get a lot more of the younger girls there to watch the games. That’s a great experience to see their sisters play at a high level and they’re seeing how to play the game well.
“Our biggest fan base is our junior high girls, they’re the loudest. Sometimes there’s sibling rivalry, but these older sisters love having the younger ones there.”
Senior Alicia Leier agrees. Bringing Brianna along in volleyball is something oldest sister Ashley did for Alicia.
“We practice a lot at our house,” Alicia said. “It’s a fun sport to do with the family. We’re either working on bumping or setting and it’s been good teaching (Brianna).
“(Ashley) helped with things I needed to understand going right into volleyball. She passed on things that I can pass on to my younger sister.”
Brianna said her sisters’ involvement definitely influenced her interest in volleyball. She looks up to her sisters and said they showed her persistence.
“(Alicia’s) been a really good influence and is willing to work with me on something if I’m not doing as good as I hope,” Brianna said.
The Stier sisters make up the only three-girl family combo in the 7-12 grade program. Eighth-grader Anni is the youngest of the trio. She said her older sisters’ success pushes her to work harder, but doesn’t burden her.
“I?probably would still play volleyball (if they didn’t),” Anni said, “but my sisters help because we’ll practice together outside. … Yeah, it’s kind of a goal to me to play as good as they can.”
Fritz notices the younger girls taking on their sisters’ mentality, if not the same style of play.
“A lot of them have the same beliefs as on how they should behave and act in practice,” Fritz said. “They all have the same work ethic and want to work hard.”
This trend was on display at Monday’s practice as sisters warmed-up together in pairs, including the Christiansons.
“I know I have to to set a good example, so my sister and all the young girls know they have to work hard,” senior ReeAnn Christianson said. “It’s kind of cool. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this many people so close together. It’s fun to see how they act around sisters and cousins as opposed to other people.”
The example setting gets a bit more serious this time of the season. The Panthers played Friday night for a shot at Monday’s District 11 championship game. Even in recent years, playing for the title was less likely. RHS is no longer intimidated by traditional powers like Bottineau, a team the Panthers beat to clinch a No. 1 seed in the district tournament and cap a perfect 6-0 regular season in district play. The win came on the Stars’ home court, where the district tournament is being played.
“I feel we’re moving in the right direction and we’re learning how to play a more competitive game of volleyball,” Fritz said. “Having these younger sisters watch their older sisters play, they’re seeing how I want this program to go and they’re learning every day about how we should be playing.”
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