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Panthers advance in regionals

By Sue Sitter - | Nov 14, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Rugby Panther Sarah Blessum celebrates after a set against the Glenburn Panthers at Rugby High School Nov. 10

The Rugby High Panthers batted down the Panthers of Glenburn in three games to advance in the Region Six Class B Tournament Nov. 10 at Rugby High’s Hanneman Gym.

Notably absent in the sparsely filled gym was Panther Head Coach Jessica Fritz. However, a Rugby fan created an effigy of their well-liked coach with a large photo of her smiling face atop stuffed clothing supported by a stick. The figure sat against a wall near the Rugby section during the game.

“Considering they had to get used to two different coaches, I thought that they really took it upon themselves to step up and play the way they’ve always been coached,” Deb Goven, a Rugby assistant coach said of her team after the game.

The game didn’t open in Rugby’s favor, as a number violation on the court cost the first point in set one.

Rugby evened the score quickly with a kill. Blocks and kills followed to give Rugby a 4-1 lead before a miss serve gave the Panthers of Glenburn another point. Glenburn paced Rugby with blocks of their own until Rugby pulled ahead to a 10-3 lead. A Glenburn front line block gave the visiting Panthers the serve, and a kill by Lorelei McIver boosted her team’s mood.

Rugby stayed ahead. When outside hitter Isabella McCabe landed a kill thanks to a set by Sarah Blessum, fans rose to their feet and held up a sign to congratulate her on her 2,000th assist.

Glenburn greeted the Rugby Panthers back to the court with another McIver kill. A block by Glenburn’s front line narrowed the score to 15-9. Glenburn could do little to keep up with Rugby’s aggressive play style. After answering Rugby’s 22 points with 15, both sides fought with a long volley, keeping the ball in play as it flew over the net and seemed to veer out of bounds at times before a miss hit by Glenburn put Rugby closer to game point.

A Rugby kill attempt went out of bounds to give Glenburn a sideout, but Brooke Blessum landed a kill in their court on the next serve for game point.

Glenburn would do the same on the very next play, staying alive with 17 points. The next Rugby attack would end the set, when Glenburn sent a return sailing out of bounds.

After the 25-17 opener, Glenburn steeled themselves for set two, scoring two unanswered points before a Sarah Blessum fakeout plopped the ball just over the net into Glenburn territory. A kill by Sarah’s cousin Brooke Blessum followed to tie the score 2-2.

Glenburn paced Rugby, tying the score again at three points each before out-of-bounds returns and and two kills by outside hitter Brooke Anderson widened Rugby’s lead to 7-3.

Despite blocks from a strong front line, Glenburn could do little to stop Rugby’s aggression. Trailing 12-5, Glenburn’s middle blocker McKenna Rolland tipped one into Rugby territory to start a small score drive, but errors set the stage for Rugby to pull further ahead.

Rugby soon saw a 24-11 lead. A well-placed return by right hitter Peyton Hauck wrapped up set two for her home team.

Set three began with two unanswered Rugby points before Glenburn’s Rolland landed a kill just inside Rugby territory. Both Panther teams stayed on each other’s backs, errors and missed signals costing both teams points early in the set.

Both teams traded leads this time, with Glenburn pulling ahead for an 8-6 lead that had fans wondering if set four would come next.

Kills from Rugby’s front line tied the score again at eight apiece, but the ball sailed out of bounds off Rugby hands to keep Glenburn close.

A Nadia Post kill bounced out of bounds off Anderson to tie the score at ten points each before Brooke Blessum answered with a kill of her own that ricocheted off Glenburn players out the gym door.

More Brooke Blessum kills followed Glenburn net errors before Rugby stretched their lead to 15-11. Glenburn fell behind by as many as five points before Post faked a set over the net, sending Rugby players diving to the floor.

Out of bounds Rugby blocks and errors on both sides kept the score margin at about four points before Anderson tipped one into an empty spot in Glenburn territory for a 20-15 lead.

McIver answered with a Glenburn kill. Brooke Blessum answered back with a kill of her own.

Another Glenburn tip narrowed Rugby’s lead to 21-17 before Brooke Blessum landed another kill. An out of bounds Glenburn return followed, putting Rugby’s lead at 23-17.

A Rugby return attempt sailed out of bounds next, followed by a rare miscalculation on Brooke Blessum’s part. With the scoreboard at 23-19, Glenburn seemed poised for a comeback.

An out of bounds Glenburn return gave Rugby game point, but Glenburn stayed alive when a Rugby attack didn’t materialize.

However, a Brooke Blessum block ended the game with a 25-20 score.

Rugby High Athletic Director Scott Grochow asked fans to clear the gym quickly, but a few jubilant and socially-distanced friends and family stopped for 2000-kill photos with Sarah Blessum.

As one fan took down the Coach Fritz effigy, Goven said she hoped Fritz would return to her Panthers soon.

“Best case scenario, she could be back Saturday, worst case, she could be back next Tuesday,” Goven said.

The Rugby Panthers would return to their home gym Nov. 12 to face the Des Lacs-Burlington Lakers.

Game Stats

Rugby Kills: Brooke Blessum, 20; Brooke Anderson, 4; Isabella McCabe, 4.

Rugby Aces: Isabella McCabe, 3; Brooke Anderson, 1.

Rugby Blocks: Brooke Blessum, 3.

Rugby Digs: Brooke Blessum, 3; Brooke Anderson, 3.

Rugby Assists: Sarah Blessum, 28; Josephine Wolf, 7.

Glenburn Kills: Lorelei McIver, 12; McKenna Rolland, 9; Nadia Post, 3.

Glenburn Blocks: McKenna Rolland, 3; Lorelei McIver, 1.

Glenburn Digs: Lorelei McIver, 12; McKenna Rolland, 12; Nadia Post, 11.

Glenburn Assists: Nadia Post, 18.

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