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Panthers volleyball notch District 11 win in Towner

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 2, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Panthers middle hitter Lacie Deplazes celebrates a kill against the TGU Titans in Towner Sept. 21.

When the Rugby Panthers traveled to TGU Towner High School gym for varsity volleyball Sept. 21, they brought a large contingent of fans fueled with homecoming week energy.

Dressed in cowboy garb, Rugby’s student section had traveled west on Highway 2 to cheer the volleyball team. The good-natured students poked fun at Rugby High School teacher Luke Bacon, who attended wearing a baseball cap bearing TGU’s logo. Bacon, a TGU alum, grew up in Granville.

The Panthers, with a three win, two-loss record, took the court against the one win, four loss Titans. Rugby would leave with another 3-0 win to add to their record, but not before Panthers Head Coach Jessica Fritz reminded her team they needed to bring some energy of their own to the game.

“I always tell them we have to play to our level all the time,” Fritz said. “We can’t play to whatever they’re doing. We have to play our game. We’ve got to stay on fire. We’ve got to bring our own energy. Towner brought energy to their court. Our fans brought energy. Our girls kind of forgot to bring that energy consistently throughout the night. We had ebbs and flows and that was what we saw. I just told them, ‘You’ve got to bring your own energy. Nobody else can control it.'”

Set 1 went off without a hitch for Rugby. The Panthers kept pressure on the young Titans, who have four freshmen and two sophomores on their 10-member team. Rugby allowed TGU only 9 points for their first win.

In the next two sets, Rugby would see more intense battles. Rugby would also see a younger teammate of their own shine.

Rugby middle hitter Lacie Deplazes scored the first point in the second set by tapping a kill into TGU territory. The RHS freshman would rack up seven kills for the evening.

TGU answered with a dig from Sophie Bachmeier into Panther territory before Deplazes powered another kill through a block by middle hitter Ashley Martodam. Rugby errors helped tie the score at 4 each until the Panthers pulled ahead with a kill by Rugby middle hitter Brooke Anderson, a kill by middle blocker Peyton Hauck and an ace by libero Anna Johnson. Rugby’s lead climbed to 14-4, but TGU kept fighting. Titans answered more Rugby attacks, sparking a long rally. The Panthers sent attack after attack over the net before outside hitter Mykell Heidlebaugh made a kill for point 15. Another ace by Johnson followed, then a kill by Anderson.

After a Panther net error, Martodam sent the Panthers to the floor with a kill. Errors on both sides came next. Martodam leaped up against a powerful Panther kill. Her block set off loud cheers from TGU fans.

Martodam and Deplazes took the spotlight, each trading kills as the score gap narrowed between the teams. An ace by Titans outside hitter Averie Lageson, a kill by Bachmeier and errors by the Panthers kept fans on the edge of their seats.

The Panthers seemed to lose focus. Fritz called a timeout.

The Titans charged ahead, narrowing the Panthers’ lead to 22-18. The Panthers would allow TGU only one more point, however. After errors on both sides, a block from Heidlebaugh gave Rugby set point before sewing up the win 25-19.

TGU took the court for set 3 more determined than ever. The Titans opened the game with a service ace by setter Illiana Arias, followed by another Martodam kill. The crowd roared.

Kills by Panthers middle hitter Peyton Hauck and Heidlebaugh followed to tie the score. Then, for the first time all evening, TGU took the lead. Rugby attacks went out of bounds and into the net, while Titan Ana Mohagen made a successful block. The Titans soon led 6-2. TGU fans went wild.

The Panthers clawed their way back with kills by setter Joey Wolf, rear hitter Annika Johnson and Anderson. After tying the set 11 apiece, Heidlebaugh made a kill to put the Panthers ahead for the first time.

Both teams battled intensely, but the Panthers saw their lead grow. A long rally ended with a kill by Deplazes. Another kill by Heidlebaugh and a missed TGU block helped the Panthers extend their lead 18-11. Annika Johnson sneaked one past TGU blockers, then more kills landed for the Panthers. An illegal hit error by Rugby gave the Titans another point, then a Bachmeier kill sent the Panthers to the floor. Another TGU attack skimmed over Panther hands. With a 22-14 lead, the Panthers had set and match point in their sights. Heidlebaugh killed for point 23, but errors for Rugby and a block by Mohagen helped the Titans close in on the Panthers.

A Panthers kill went awry, narrowing Rugby’s lead to 23-18. A TGU attack sailed out of bounds, giving Rugby set and match point. After a short rally, another Titans attack missed its mark, giving Rugby the win.

The battle between the two District 11 opponents gave Rugby three district wins. TGU has yet to beat a team in the district.

“We always knew going into all these district games that everybody wants to come out and beat us,” Fritz said of the battle after the game. “So, we’ve just got to be more aggressive all the time and we’ve got to stay positive. We’ve just got to play our game no matter what the other teams are doing.”

“Towner’s got a great team,” Fritz added. “They’re really young, but they’re athletic. They do things you don’t really expect, but they’re an athletic team. They’re going to continue to improve, but they’re a team you can’t underestimate.”

Fritz said she encourages the Panthers to bring the same intensity to every game, no matter who they face. “I just tell them, ‘you’ve got to believe in yourself no matter what.’ It’s an up and down year. We’ve got new leaders on the court; we’ve got a new team, we’ve just got to believe in ourselves and play a good game.”

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