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Panthers climb to final round at region volleyball

By Staff | Nov 15, 2019

Lori Gronvold for the Tribune Brooke Blessum sends the ball back to the other side of the net Tuesday evening at the Region 6 Volleyball tournament in Minot.

Rugby High School’s Panthers continued their climb to the top at Minot Municipal Auditorium this week as they defeated District 12 powerhouses Bishop Ryan and Des Lacs-Burlington High Schools at the Region 6 tournament.

Monday’s tournament round saw the Panthers’ fellow District 11 contenders TGU, Velva and Newburg-Westhope eliminated. Rugby survived the first cut, defeating Bishop Ryan in three sets, but not without a fight.

The Lions struck first in set #1 on a Panther error, but the Panthers came back for a 1-1 tie. A point-for-point battle followed, thanks to missteps and more errors on both sides.

The Panthers trailed by up to four points during the game, but after a timeout, kills and blocks by Brooke Anderson and Isabella McCabe, Rugby clawed back to tie 17-17. The Lions struggled back with kills from their front line before errors set them back again. The Panthers established a solid lead after they pulled ahead 21-20 and after a Bishop Ryan timeout, the Lions fell to the Panthers 25-21.

The Panthers seemed to have landed on their feet after that as they established a lead early in set #2 and kept the Lions at bay throughout the game, winning 25-13.

The Lions threatened to come back after set #3 began with a 0-2 lead thanks to a kill by Bishop Ryan’s Sydney Upton, but the Panthers battled back with a kill from Brooke Blessum and a Kelly Swanson service ace.

More kills from Brooke Blessum followed along with kills by Brooke Anderson and Alyson Mundahl. The Lions blocked more Panther hits, but Rugby built on their lead.

A Lion point seemed to give Bishop Ryan hope for a comeback when the Panthers held an 18-14 lead, but another Brooke Blessum kill and an out of bounds return held them to that total. Errors and missed blocks kept the Lions’ hopes alive, and a Bishop Ryan service ace held the Panthers back at their 24-16 game point before an out-of-bounds Lions attack sealed the game up for Rugby.

“We had a lot of service errors today and we were playing a little bit on our heels,” Panther coach Jessica Fritz said after the game Monday. “We needed to kind of come back and bounce out of that and get a little more aggressive. We got more aggressive in sets two and three and that helped us a lot.”

“We’re going to watch both teams tonight,” Fritz added. “We’re going to start working on our game a little bit more and just get the basics down. Tonight, we didn’t do a very good job with some of our fundamentals and we’ve just got to prepare mentally for that and be ready for tomorrow.”

Mental toughness proved to be key for Tuesday’s game against Des Lacs-Burlington.

The nail-biter began with set #1 giving the first two points to Rugby, thanks to a Sarah Blessum serve and a Brooke Blessum block.

The Lakers’ front line answered back with kills and unexpected tips which caused mixed signals among the Panthers and gave an even score to DLB.

The Panthers soon found themselves trailing by three points before they took the lead, but the Lakers stayed on their tail. As the score climbed, DLB overtook the Panthers a final time with a 21-24 lead before a Brooke Blessum kill and a net ball for Laker Zoe Reed narrowed the score to 23-24. After a Laker timeout, the Panthers returned a serve out of bounds, giving set #1 to DLB, 23-25.

The Panthers clawed back to an early lead in set #2, and the same point-for-point struggle continued. Kills by Mundahl and Brooke Blessum kept the Panthers ahead, and Sarah Blessum added two set-fakes to drop the ball into the Laker court for more points. However, net violations on both sides kept the score margin close for most of the game. The Panthers stayed on top after DLB tied 18-18 and after two Brooke Blessum kills and another Panther point after a long struggle left players on the floor, the Panthers pulled ahead, 22-20. A tip gave the Lakers one more point before a McCabe block, a Brooke Blessum kill and Laker net violation resulted in a 25-21 win for the Panthers.

After the tie, the Panthers won set #3 with a bit more room. The 25-16 win made fans expect an easy fourth set for the Panthers.

Instead, the fourth set put fans for both teams on the edge of their seats.

The set began with a Swanson kill, followed quickly by a kill from Kayli Olson of DLB. The Panthers would pull ahead and tie for most of the set before DLB established a 13-18 lead. Panther staff called timeouts to discuss more strategies but DLB kept their lead. A kill by Laker Emily DeGree kept the Panthers to 16 points, and DLB ended the set with a 16-25 win to tie the match.

Set #5 broke the tie in favor of the Panthers after another fight.

Rugby varied tips and spikes more, blocks prevented Laker attacks, and after McCabe dropped an attack to the middle of Laker territory for a 7-3 Panther lead, DLB staff called a timeout.

The Panthers continued their climb toward the finish with a Sarah Blessum fake, and stayed ahead of the Lakers with a McCabe ace and two perfect Brooke Blessum tips. At match point, a Panther tip wrapped up the game for the Panthers, who won the tiebreaker 15-8.

“It was really overwhelming,” Mundahl said of the game. “We had to calm ourselves down quite a bit, but we ended up working really hard and it really helped.”

“We gave everyone a run for their money. We just did everything we knew we needed to do. At times, we didn’t get those things done but we overcame it, came back and did what we needed to do when we were down.”

Looking ahead to Thursday’s game against Our Redeemer’s Christian School, Fritz said, “We need to play tough. Our Redeemer’s is a very tough team and we just have got to play aggressive and we’ve got to play our game and do those little things right. I don’t know how many times I say, ‘You’ve just got to pass the ball. The rest of it will come together.'”

Anderson said of the game, “I’m just tired right now, and I still can’t comprehend (the win). I’ve got bruises all over. I think tomorrow during practice, we’re just going to work really hard and see who wins tonight, and adjust to their offense and try to get it done Thursday and go to state!”

Thursday’s tournament results will be published in next week’s Tribune.

Stats for Monday’s game were:

Rugby kills: Brooke Blessum, 18; Brooke Anderson, 7. Assists: Sarah Blessum 27. Aces: Kelly Swanson, 3; Sarah Blessum, 2, Isabella McCabe, 1, Alyson Mundahl, 1. Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 4, McCabe, 1, Peyton Hauck, 1. Digs: Anderson, 14; Swanson, 7; Sarah Blessum, 7; Brooke Blessum, 7.

Bishop Ryan kills: Sydney Upton, 7; Maddie Hedberg, 4. Assists: Grace Candrian, 13. Aces: Hedberg, 3, Candrian 1, Sylvie Kramer, 1. Blocks: Upton, 2. Digs: Nora Kramer, 13; Candrian, 11.

Stats for Tuesday’s game were: Rugby kills: Brooke Blessum, 31; Anderson,5; McCabe, 5. Assists: Sarah Blessum, 47; Aces: Anderson, 3; McCabe, 2. Blocks: McCabe, 5; Brooke Blessum, 2. Digs: Swanson, 11; Sarah Blessum, 8; Brooke Blessum, 8.

DLB kills: Kayli Olson, 15; Krysta Berard,14; Zoey Reed, 10. Assists: Addyson Hughes, 37. Aces: Berard, 3; Hughes, 2. Blocks: Emily DeGree, 2; Berard, 2. Digs: Karsyn Lucier, 14; Ava Wille, 14; Olson, 10.

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