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Rugby second-string players get spotlight in home game

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 26, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Panther Kiah Gault sets the ball for a play against the Rolette Comets Sept. 17.

The Rugby High School Panthers faced the Rolette Comets for C-squad and varsity volleyball at home Sept. 17, and even without a JV game, junior varsity players had a chance to shine.

Junior varsity setter Kiah Gault made good use of her time on the court in the second and third sets of the evening, logging six assists and four aces.

The Panthers’ 3-0 win over the Comets also saw 16 assists and five aces from varsity setter Sarah Blessum.

“Our JV players, Joey Wolf, Kiah, Annika (Johnson), they all play solid,” Coach Jessica Fritz said. “They didn’t get an opportunity to have a JV game tonight, so I gave them an opportunity to play. They’ve got to learn how to play these games too, and there will be times when we’re going to need them in pressure situations. We’ve got to get them in any chance we can. And Kiah stepped in and did amazing tonight.”

The win came days after another 3-0 victory against Nedrose. The Panthers saw their first loss Sept. 12 when they fell to the Thompson Tommies.

“Thompson’s a tough team. They’re one of the top teams in the state, hands down. They run a quick offense,” Fritz said. “They run things a little bit differently than we do. We just were keeping up with them at times, and then we would just kind of drop off. It’s just how the game of volleyball is.”

The Panthers played in their home gym against the Comets, which seemed to add an element of comfort to the game.

Panther players smiled and chatted with each other during breaks, at ease in their surroundings.

The Panthers scored first in the match when Brooke Blessum and the Rugby front line powered through a Comet block attempt. The Comets paced the Panthers and pulled ahead 3-4 when setter Hailey Peltier landed a kill in Rugby territory.

Both teams battled to within two points of each other before the Panthers broke loose and pulled ahead, thanks to kills by Brooke Blessum and Peyton Hauck. The Panthers racked up a 12-point lead, when the Comets struggled back for two more points thanks to well-placed tips past the Panther front line. A net serve for the Comets sealed their fate, and the first set ended with a 25-14 Panther win.

The Comets sank further behind in the second set, allowing five Panther points before scoring on a sideout from a Rugby mis-serve.

Middle hitter Brooke Blessum made sure the Panther lead grew with two kills and a well-placed block.

More Panther kills came from Bella McCabe, and with an 18-6 lead, another Rugby victory came within reach.

The Comets shot back, scoring four more points, but the Panthers built on their lead to finish the set 25-10.

The Panthers started set three off with two Sarah Blessum aces. A missed Panther block gave the Comets one point, but a Brooke Blessum kill set the score back in Rugby’s favor.

The Comets stayed on the Panthers, narrowing the gap to one point after a series of Rugby errors put the score at 8-7.

With pressure mounting, both teams sent returns out of bounds. Serves went into the net.

Kills from Brooke Blessum and the Rugby front line stretched the Panther lead to 16-12 before a series of Gault aces and more Brooke Blessum kills boosted the Panthers’ lead to 21-12.

The Comets struggled to keep the Panthers at bay, but errors gave the Panthers three more points. A Brenna Boucher tip sent Panthers to the floor, and Rugby returns bounced into the net and out of bounds. But a well-placed tip by McCabe sewed up the set and match at 25-18.

Fritz said the Panthers had adjusted their play last week to face Nedrose and Rolette.

“We played a whole different caliber of teams (with Nedrose and Rolette),” Fritz said. We had played the top team in the state (Sept. 12).”

Fritz said before the Nedrose and Rolette games, “We talked about being ready to play all the time. We can’t take any game for granted. Because of all the pandemic stuff, we tried different rotations tonight and tried new things out, just because we never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. So, we just always try to prepare for the whole picture.”

“We play Towner next,” Fritz added. “It’s another district game, so we’re looking to just come out and play our game and be aggressive all the time.”

Rugby 3, Rolette 0

Rugby 25 25 25

DLB 14 11 18

Rugby: Kills: Brooke Blessum, 11; Bella McCabe, 4; Peyton Hauck, 2. Assists: Sarah Blessum, 16; Kiah Gault, 6. Aces: Sarah Blessum, 5, Gault, 4. Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 4. Digs: Anna Johnson, 4, Brooke Anderson, 3.

Rolette: Kills: Brenna Boucher, 2; Hailey Peltier, 1. Assists: Peltier, 3. Aces: 0. Digs: Hannah Strong, 5; Sierra Heinz, 4.

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