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District win builds Panther volleyball confidence

By Staff | Oct 11, 2019

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Rugby volleyball players celebrate after scoring a point against Our Redeemer's during Saturday's Laker Invite in Des Lacs.

If a grueling loss at the Laker Invitational Tournament at Des Lacs-Burlington High School last weekend wore down Rugby High School’s Lady Panthers, it didn’t show in Tuesday’s home win against the Velva Aggies.

“I’m pretty sure they’re still exhausted from the weekend,” Varsity Coach Jessica Fritz said of the Des-Lacs Burlington tournament. “It was pretty intense; it was a close game.”

However, Tuesday’s match in Rugby High School’s gym seemed easy for the Panthers.

The visiting Aggies weren’t about to be labeled pushovers, of course. They made it known they had come to play and wouldn’t give away points without a fight.

The Lady Panthers started strong with three unanswered points in the first game on serves by Sarah Blessum.

After the Aggies’ sideout, the Panthers continued their blitz toward win number one, until Velva put a temporary stop to their momentum with another sideout and point.

The Panthers answered right back with a Brooke Blessum kill to the outside corner of the Aggies’ side of the court.

The Aggies tried to rally again at an 11-3 Panther lead, but Rugby took control again when the scoreboard read 11-7 with an ace to continue their drive.

The Aggies managed nine more points for the rest of the game, but the Panthers never loosened their grip on their lead, and Game No. 1 ended with a 25-16 Rugby win.

The second game of the match saw the Panthers’ confidence increase, while the Aggies struggled to regroup from the first and fight on.

The Panthers leaped out in front early and with an ace from Brooke Blessum and kills from Isabella McCabe, the Panthers held a commanding 9-4 lead before long. A strategic Aggie tip caught the Panthers unaware, but an Aggie rally never materialized, and the Panthers marched toward a win until an Aggie sideout narrowed their lead a bit at 12-6. A hard-fought rally by both sides resulted in a catch error by the Panthers, and the Aggies sank a return that had Panthers diving to the floor.

A kill by McCabe kept the Panthers far out in front, and Rugby held the Aggies to nine points overall, ending Game No. 2 with a 25-16 win.

Game #3 seemed destined to be another Panther rout, but the Aggies fought hard for more points of their own.

However, the Panthers countered with devastating hits and blocks, and strong digs from Brooke Blessum and Kelly Swanson kept Rugby out in front.

Any fatigue on the Panther side may have shown in a few errors in Game No. 3, but the Aggies struggled more, with serves and return attempts ricocheting out of bounds. A Brooke Anderson kill wrapped up the third win for the Panthers with a score of 25-15.

“We came in ready to play,” Fritz said of Tuesday’s game. “We knew we had two more district games and we wanted to be the regular season champions. We had to come in tonight and play really hard, and then we have one more game for the district play Bottineau.”

When asked if the tough DLB tournament last weekend provided a glimpse of region and state competition, Fritz said, “You know, we played a lot of tough teams. We played some of the tougher teams in our region, too. We played Our Redeemers we lost a close one to them. We kind of know what we need to work on to become better.”

Fritz said the Panthers’ strategy would start with a wrap-up of district games.

“We should be good for districts, and then we can start playing the rest of our games and be confident and know we can do it,” Fritz said.

Stat totals for Tuesday’s game were:

Rugby: Kills: Brooke Blessum, 14, Anderson, 8 and McCabe, 8. Service Aces: Sarah Blessum, 3; Brooke Blessum, 3. Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 2. Digs: Brooke Blessum, 14, Swanson, 8. Assists: Sarah Blessum, 34.

Velva: Kills: Camryn Volk, 4; Kaitlyn Lund, 3. Service Aces: Grace Pfennig, 2; Sophie Hackman, 1. Blocks: Rylee Frantsen, 1; Hackman, 1. Digs: Madison Effertz, 15; Pfennig, 13. Assists: Effertz, 3; Jade Lohnes, 3.

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