Panther volleyball takes second at Region 6 tourney
Rugby High School’s varsity volleyball team made their hometown proud at Minot’s Municipal Auditorium last Thursday when they placed second in Region 6 after an intense match against Our Redeemer’s Christian School.
“They’re amazing,” Coach Jessica Fritz said of the team. “These girls are so truly amazing and we’ve overcome so much this year, from Rachel (Hartl) to Kim (Anderson).”
Panther Hartl spent part of the season recovering from medical issues, and Assistant Coach Anderson took chemotherapy medications with her to games, encouraging the Panthers to fight for every point as she fought cancer.
“They’ve had a lot of mental things that have gone against them,” Fritz said. “Many teams don’t know how to handle that, and these girls stepped up to the challenge. They stepped up to the plate. They never let those little things (bother them).”
“They played for the girls who can’t play,” Fritz added. “They played for the people who can’t get on the court and do it. These girls did that all the time.”
Although the Panthers missed their chance at state, middle hitter Brooke Blessum and setter Sarah Blessum took spots on the 2019 Region 6 All Region Team.
As the game began, the focused Panthers approached the court for set #1 ready to do battle with reigning regional champs Our Redeemer’s Christian School.
The Panthers’ mental toughness paid off.
Front and back court players moved with precision after Our Redeemer’s Knights scored the first point, with two Brooke Blessum kills tying and adding to the total.
The Knights stayed on the Panthers’ tail, tying the score throughout the set.
However, the Panthers always managed to claw their way ahead, blocking repeated Knight kill attempts and racking up kills from Kelly Swanson, Sarah Blessum and Isabella McCabe.
The Knights traded kills with the Panthers as the set wore on, and players often dove to the floor to keep the ball in play. Rugby’s lead narrowed with a few missteps that had the ball sailing out of bounds. After some Knight errors, Our Redeemers’ Annie Folden scored a kill to threaten to take over again.
A Brooke Anderson fakeout tied the score at 17-17, and the Knights and Panthers traded one-point leads and ties until an Our Redeemer’s service error gave Anderson a chance to score another kill and put the Panthers ahead 23-21.
After a Rugby timeout, the Panthers pulled ahead for good, and the team jumped up screaming after winning the set 25-21.
The Knights regrouped for the second set.
The set began with two unanswered Our Redeemer’s points, with a Panther front line block, a Sarah Blessum ace and an Anderson kill putting Rugby ahead 4-3.
However, the Panthers saw block attempts go out of bounds, and tip attempts turned into net violations. The Knights pulled ahead, and built on a steady lead. The Panthers fell 13-25. The next set saw the Panthers unable to score for the first five serves, and their sideout and Brooke Blessum kill gave them a 2-5 point margin, the closest they’d come to ORCS in the game. A Swanson ace and more kills from Rugby’s front line helped, but the Panthers fell again, 11-25.
The Panthers gave their all in set #4, nipping at the Knights’ heels and falling farther behind until a Brooke Blessum block and two kills helped Rugby narrow the gap to 19-22. After a Rugby timeout, kills from Brooke Blessum and McCabe put the Panthers even closer, but the Knights managed another kill and match point.
The Panthers’ 21-25 loss in the final set ended their season.
A group prayer with both teams followed, and families joined players on the court for hugs and photos.
A red-faced Brooke Blessum wiped her eyes after the ceremony and told the Tribune, “Obviously, we’re not happy with the result (of the Region 6 tourney) but we’re happy that we got here and we got a chance. Hopefully by next year, we have another chance to work and get into (the state tournament).”
McCabe, who like Brooke and Sarah Blessum is a junior this year, said, “We’re going to do everything that we can to get to where we want to be and that’s state for next year.”
Seniors Swanson, Hartl, Alyson Mundahl and Maisie Gault will graduate in May.
“We’re going to miss our seniors. They were calm, they were collected all the time, they kept this team going,” Fritz said.
“But we’re going to come back. The girls are already saying, ‘Next year, we’re going to do this; next year, we’re going to do that.’ So, they’re already thinking what this is going to look like then, Fritz noted.
“Some of these girls have never had a taste of championship games, and they’ve got it now, and they’re already hungry,” Fritz added.
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