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Perfecting kills and blocks

By Staff | Sep 13, 2019

Lori Gronvold for the Tribune Rugby’s Isabella McCabe at the net in a home game against St. John Tuesday.

As summer disappears and the weather grows cooler, Rugby High School athletic teams begin to find out where they stand.

So far, things are shaping up well for the Lady Panthers varsity volleyball squad.

Rugby stands with a 3-0 record after challenging games against fellow District 11 team Bottineau and non-district rivals St. John and North Star Saturday and Tuesday.

The Lady Panthers traveled to Bottineau High School Saturday for the Bottineau Invite, where they faced the Lady Stars in their first round of competition. Rugby dominated Bottineau in both games, 25-9 and 25-11.

After Bottineau, Rugby squared off against a team they’d had difficulty with the previous Tuesday: North Star’s Lady Bearcats.

Unlike their previous meeting, where Rugby’s kill attempts bounced back from defending Bearcats and Bearcat tips over the net caught the Lady Panthers unaware, Rugby changed up their strategy.

“North Star kind of pulled off some of their blocks, and we were able to capitalize on their open areas, so we were able to tip a few times, which was really nice,” said coach Jessica Fritz after the tourney.

“The girls were really good at reading what they were doing, and once they started pulling off blocks and covering tips more, we were back to hitting, and we just kind of beat them at their own game in a sense,” Fritz added.

The Panthers’ changes paid off in the first game of the set, giving them a 25-13 win over North Star.

The Bearcats fought back in the second game of the tournament set. Soon the Panthers pulled ahead, leading 12-6 by the middle of the game. The Bearcats tied the score 13-13 later, and both teams took turns scratching out one-point leads until the Bearcats stayed ahead by a consistent three-point margin. Rugby narrowed the gap to 20-22, but trailed after a series of rallies went to North Star.

A Bearcat service error gave Rugby renewed hope and shrank their score deficit to 21-24, but North Star put the nail in the game’s coffin on the next point, winning 25-21.

The decisive 12 point win in the first game of the split wins gave the match against North Star to the Lady Panthers.

The Lady Panthers advanced up the bracket to meet St. John’s Lady Woodchucks, a team they would see again in the RHS gym Tuesday.

The Woodchucks went into the tournament undefeated, but fell in both games to Rugby, each with an identical 25-17 score.

“They did a really good job reading what they were doing,” Fritz noted Saturday.

“The great thing with this group of girls is they know from every match they’re watching (and saying), ‘We didn’t do this really well, we’ve got to really work on this.’ They’re really good at knowing where they can get better.”

Outside Hitters Brooke Anderson and Aly Mundahl agreed.

“It was amazing how we got to be first in the tournament,” Anderson said. “We had good communication all around and we just capitalized on it.”

“We all sort of used our own little spin and we put it all together to make it work and do really well,” Mundahl said.

The Lady Panthers returned to Rugby High Tuesday to welcome the St. John Lady Woodchucks to their home gym.

In Tuesday’s game, the Panthers set the tone for the evening with kills from middle hitter Brooke Blessum. After two unanswered points, the Chucks came back with two of their own, but struggled against a Panther juggernaut. Most of game one saw the Chucks trailing by seven points, but by the time the Panthers boosted their lead to 13-4, the Chucks slowly built on their own point total.

The Panthers stayed ahead, however, and although a last-ditch point scored by the Chucks delayed their defeat when the Panthers led 24-10, Rugby finished them off.

The second game of the evening saw the Lady Panthers perfect their kills and blocks. This time, Isabella McCabe and Brooke Anderson added kills to their personal stats. The Chucks could do little more than answer with eight total points of their own before the Panthers ended the game with a McCabe kill at 25-8.

The Lady Panthers sewed up their win in game three, with a final score of 25-14.

“Our girls just knew we had to play strong and we had to be aggressive. We kind of talked about it being the first home game,” Fritz said after Tuesday’s game. “You’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to show everybody why we’re here. Be the better team; keep your head in the game and go after everything.”

Fritz said she was glad to see some familiar faces from St. John. “That’s where I started coaching,” she noted.

Fritz looked ahead to more challenging games on Rugby’s schedule, including a home game against top team Nedrose Tuesday. “We don’t put anything past any team,” she said.

“We always look for ways we can get better. And Nedrose, that’ll be our first district game, and that will be an exciting one just because they’re a newer school; it’s a newer program, but they’ve improved a lot, so we know we’ve got to get in there and be aggressive. It’s a home game, so we’ll have a little extra fire.”

Stat totals for Tuesday’s game were:

Rugby Kills: Brooke Blessum, 15, McCabe, 7, Anderson 4. Aces: Kelly Swanson, 7, Sarah Blessum 3. Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 5, Mundahl, 1. Digs: Anderson, 10, Anna Johnson, 10. Assists: Sarah Blessum, 40.

St. John Kills: Kendra Prouty, 4, Madelyn Braumberger, 2, Taye Bercier, 2, Laney Keplin, 2. Aces: Braumberger, 2. Blocks: Prouty, 7. Digs: Prouty, 4, Braumberger, 4, Bernadette Madrid, 4. Assists: Hannah Leonard, 7.

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