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Panthers fall to Lions in another weekend battle

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 3, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Setter Sarah Blessum fakes out the Linton Lions’ front line at the Hanneman Gym in Rugby, Sept. 26.

The Rugby Panthers faced yet another weekend battle on the volleyball court with a top team in the state, this time at home.

Two weeks after a loss in Thompson against the former North Dakota champion Tommies, the Panthers hosted the Linton/HMB Lions in Rugby’s Hanneman Gym Sept. 26.

“Linton’s the number two team in the state right now, and they deserve to be,” said Rugby Coach Jessica Fritz. “They’re a good team and we knew that coming in.”

The Lions stunned the Panthers in the first set 25-7, powering through blocks and stopping Rugby kill attempts with a solid front line, thanks to outside hitters Teagan Scherr, Jaycee Richter and Emily Kelsch.

The Panthers regrouped after the first set shocker, prepared for a fight.

Rugby started the second set with a 5-2 lead, giving the home crowd hope for a comeback. Linton fought back to a 5-5 tie.

The point totals climbed as the Lions and Panthers fought kill for kill before middle hitter Brooke Blessum smacked one into the center of the Lions’ court for a sideout. Scherr came back with a kill of her own, and soon the Lions leaped out ahead.

After a kill by Panther middle hitter Bella McCabe and an ace by defensive specialist Riley Grove, the score sat at 15 each, seeming to give Rugby momentum.

The Lions put a stop to that.

Linton’s front line hitters blasted the ball through all Rugby block attempts.

Trailing 16-20, the Panthers tripped the Lions up for a sideout before the Lions continued their onslaught. An out-of-bounds Panther hit and a well-placed Lion tip put Rugby behind 17-23 before Brooke Blessum tipped the ball just over the net and slammed another for two more points. Rugby also took advantage of out of bounds Lion kill attempts to narrow the score to 20-23, but Linton picked up the pace and finished the game with a closer, five point win.

With their aggression amped up again, Rugby returned to the court for their third set, striking the first blow for a 1-0 lead. The Lions matched the Panthers’ aggressive style point for point, the Panthers staying on their tails throughout the game.

A well-placed kill by McCabe and a fakeout by setter Sarah Blessum kept the score close, and the Lions fell behind after an out-of-bounds serve and a Brooke Blessum kill put the score at 16-14 Panthers. The Lions fought back again, stopping more Panther kill and block attempts and landing an ace in Rugby’s court.

With help from Panthers Peyton Hauk and Mykell Heidlebaugh, the score tied at 21-21. The Panthers stayed relentlessly on the Lions, trailing and tying to a one-point 23-24 deficit.

After the Panthers tied the score 24-24, the Lions blocked a Panther kill attempt for another point, but a Linton error tied the score 25-25, neither team with the required two-point advantage for a win.

An out-of-bounds Panther return and another error put the Panthers behind for good, and Linton sewed up a close 27-25 win.

Fritz said after the game, “Like I told the girls, we played with the number two team in the state. We didn’t right away. We started off slow in the first set, but once we played our game, we did well.”

“We played right there with them the whole time and they have nothing to hang their heads about,” she added.

Fritz called the game a “learning experience.”

“I tell them every game is a game we need to learn from, whether we are winning or losing, whether we’re the top team or not,” she noted. “We have to look at every opportunity to learn.”

Fritz added, “Today, we learned that we need to be better at our blocking. Our blocking wasn’t as strong as it can be, as it has been. Today, we focused on that’s what we need to bring into the next practice and start working on that a little bit more.”

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