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Panther volleyball season ends in Minot

By Staff | Nov 16, 2018

Lori Gronvold for the Tribune Anni Stier goes up for the return during the third place game of the Region 6 Volleyball tournament in Minot.

When Rugby’s Varsity Panthers faced Des Lacs Burlington on the volleyball court at the Minot Municipal Auditorium last Thursday, both teams knew their seasons were over, no matter what happened.

The Panthers and Lakers had been knocked out of the final round of the Region 6 Championship Tournament, which would have advanced them to the State Championships this week in the Minot State University Dome.

Still, each team gave their all to their last 2018 game.

Outside hitter Maria Blessum kept her promise to play in spite of a shoulder injury from the previous game, and she delivered plenty of the kills she made herself known for in the regular season, using one arm. When the Panthers had the serve, she used her non-injured arm to toss the ball into the air, and smack it over the net with one fluid motion.

Fellow seniors Anni Stier and Karsyn Hager marked their last game with plenty of kills of their own, and Brooke and Sarah Blessum, Kelly Swanson, Jordan Senger and McKenzie Harner helped the team take advantage of Laker mistakes and missed hits.

But each game saw the Panthers fall short, and the battle-weary squad fell in three sets to Burlington-Des Lacs, with scores of 18-25, 19-25 and 16-25.

Coach Jessica Fritz said the team’s goal for their last game was “just enjoy the game and end the season on a positive note. It wasn’t the way we wanted it to end, but” she sighed.

Fritz said of the Panthers, “They make me proud. They all do.”

After the Panthers left the court, they met family and friends with hugs, tears, and talk of ordering pizza.

Senior Anni Stier’s face wore a bittersweet smile as she hugged friends and teammates, and her fellow seniors joined her in the hallway for a photo.

Maria Blessum hugged her little sister, setter Sarah Blessum, and both wiped tears from their red, puffy faces.

“I just want to thank everyone for supporting us this year,” Maria said of the Panther community.

The team posed for a group photo, and although the seniors looked ahead to life after graduation, the 9-11th graders’ smiles left no doubt they looked forward to another season of Panther volleyball next year.

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