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Panthers sharpen claws for post-season play

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 24, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Panther Mykell Heidlebaugh sets the ball for the Panthers front line against the Rebels in Mohall on Oct. 15.

Games against a Region Six opponent and the defending state Class B champions helped the Panthers to sharpen their claws last week for post-season volleyball play.

The Panthers started their game week Thursday, Oct. 15, in Mohall, where they faced off against the Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood Rebels in three sets

An ace by setter Sarah Blessum and kills by her cousin, middle hitter Brooke Blessum started the first set in the Panthers’ favor. Rugby pulled ahead 17-2 before MLS attempted to narrow the gap, but the Rebels could only manage four more points before an ace by middle hitter Bella McCabe put the set away with a 25-6 win for Rugby.

The Rebels summoned their fight for the second set as they paced the Panthers point for point, staying within a one-point range early. The Panthers pulled far ahead again, however. The set saw several timeouts as officials examined plays and conferred with scorekeepers, but the Panthers kept their focus on aggressive play to keep their lead. Coaches for both teams substituted players, with setter Kiah Gault coming in for Sarah Blessum and right hitter Joey Wolf rotating in for right hitter Peyton Hauck.

Although the Rebels narrowed the score gap in the second set, the Panthers won again, 25-16.

The third set followed the same pattern, this time starting with aces from outside hitter Brooke Anderson and sets from Gault to Brooke Blessum, who turned them into more kills.

The Panthers wrapped up the set and game with a 25-15 win.

“The girls knew they were in a region game, so they knew they had to come in and play strong no matter what, just be aggressive all the time,” Panther Coach Jessica Fritz said after the game in Mohall.

“MLS had made some rotation changes this year, and they’re trying to find a rotation that works,” Fritz said of the Rebels’ player changes, “but I told the girls, ‘Just get in there and play your game.'”

Fritz said she made substitutions of her own. “I tried, figuring we’re going into the end of the season, get everybody in a little bit, see where everybody fits in and just give those other girls a little bit of a break before tournament time,” she said.

The Panthers faced more of a challenge at home Oct. 17, when they met defending state champions Langdon-Edmore-Munich in Rugby’s Hanneman Gym.

“It was a great game!” Fritz wrote excitedly the following Monday. “The girls played a solid all-around game.”

The Panthers saw their only five set game in the season on their home court as they stayed on the Cardinals’ tails the entire afternoon.

Rugby seemed poised to upset the champs after an exciting 29-27 first set win, where Brooke Blessum found herself challenged kill for kill by Cardinal middle hitter Lexis Olson. The Cardinals came back in the next set, fighting off two game point save attempts by the Panthers to win 25-20.

The Panthers roared back again to an amazing 25-21 win, thanks in part to aces by Riley Grove. The Panthers led the Cardinals two sets to one before the Cards tied the game at two sets apiece when the Panthers’ energy flagged. Diving attempts to save the ball resulted in a cut lip for Anderson.

After the 25-17 loss, Rugby brought back their fight for set five, staying within one to two points of the Cards and saving the match twice. With a 14-13 lead, the Cards took the tiebreaker 15-13 on a Panther error.

“We did come up a little short but the girls played with determination and grit the whole time,” Fritz said. “A loss against the #4 seed in the state isn’t anything to hang their heads about.They played with them the whole time. It was a good game for growth and learning.”

Set 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5

Rugby 29 20 25 17 13

Langdon Edmore Munich 27 25 21 25 15

Rugby Kills: Brooke Blessum, 30; Bella McCabe, 9

Rugby Aces: McCabe, 2; Riley Grove, 2

Rugby Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 7; McCabe, 4

Rugby Digs: Brooke Anderson, 10; Riley Grove, 8

Rugby Assists: Sarah Blessum, 45

Langdon Edmore Munich Kills: Lexis Olson, 21; Morgan Freije, 19; Cora Badding, 14; Kaylee Lowery, 4; Jaylynn Swanson, 3

Langdon Edmore Munich Aces: Olson, 4; Lowery 2; Freije, 2; Swanson, 2; Halle Jabs, 1

Langdon Edmore Munich Blocks: Olson, 5; Lowery, 4

Langdon Edmore Munich Digs: Olson, 24; Freije, 24; Marlee Hetleved, 17; Swanson, 13; Morgan Thielbar, 6; Raelyn Klindt, 5

Langdon Edmore Munich Assists: Swanson, 55; Klindt, 3

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