Two weeks later, the Bearcats have not skipped a beat and are still atop the Region 4 standings. In its return Tuesday, North Star (8-2, 4-0 Region 4) blew past Dunseith (3-7, 1-5 Region 4) 3-0 (25-15, 25-12, 25-9), proving that the rust didn't sit for long on the Bearcats.

Every high school team in the Lake Region has had to pause for two weeks this season to COVID-19 exposure. In that time, there's no games, practices and the most contact coaches get with players is over Zoom. 

North Star, the last school in the region to pause play due to COVID-19 exposure, went remote and postponed all athletic events on Oct. 12. Before the pause, the Bearcats were rolling in region play and were in the hunt for the top spot, standing undefeated next to L/E/M.  

Two weeks later, the Bearcats have not skipped a beat and are still atop the Region 4 standings. In its return Tuesday, North Star (8-2, 4-0 Region 4) blew past Dunseith (3-7, 1-5 Region 4) 3-0 (25-15, 25-12, 25-9), proving that the rust didn't sit for long on the Bearcats. 

"I thought we did well," Bearcats head coach Aubree Page said. "I was just worried that we might start slow and we didn't. We only had two practices before this and I pushed hard on them and it helped. They had good placement today." 

One thing that North Star looked to work in early was moving some of the pressure off of junior middle blocker Danielle Hagler, who has been a driving force for the Bearcats on offense and defense. In the first set, the Bearcats saw senior middle blocker Mackenzie Gleason, junior outside hitter Gracie Miller, and junior setter Lindsey Nyhagen come forward as other options to pace play. Gleason led the trio with seven kills, four aces, two blocks, and nine digs. 

"Tonight we tried to move the ball around instead of giving her [Hagler] ever set," Page said. "She had more kills in the second set because we were going to her more. In that first set, we were moving around a little more to some of the girls that don't get a ton a sets." 

While the Bearcats took the pressure off of their captain in the first set, she was back in the second and third driving North Star's offense. She would lead on the offense and defensive effort on the night with 16 kills, two blocks, and 14 digs. Nyhagen played a role in setting up Hagler as she would finish with a team-high 13 assists.

North Star's "we're back" statement came in the third set as the Bearcats limited the Dragons to less than 10 points in the final frame. The last time the Bearcats limited their opponent to a single-digit set was against Park River, 25-7, over a month ago. Page said it was a mental adjustment at the end of the second set that led to a dominant finish. 

"They [Dunseith] had some tips they were pushing at us and we weren't getting them up," Page said. "I said your body needs to be on the ground before that ball gets on the ground and you guys need to give more effort out there. All of the sudden, everyone was on the floor and nothing was dropping. It's a reminder that whoever we play, we still have to play at our own level." 

Page said The heavy tipping presence is what caught the Bearcats off early, but the team adjusted for the sweep. There was some concern from Page and her staff that the Bearcats would be in a different place than they were two weeks ago, but Tuesday's finish "exceeded expectations".  

"They exceeded my expectations in having that break," Page said. "I feel like they came out and played really well. It's a scary thing when you have that long of a break. I was definitely nervous."

As the Bearcats step into the catchup role, like a lot of their opponents have, they have the advantage of hosting two teams right on their heels for the top spot in the region: New Rockford-Sheyenne and No. 4 L/E/M. The Bearcats meet the Cardinals on Nov. 2 and close out the regular season against the Rockets on Nov. 3. 

With Benson County losing to Rolla Tuesday, the regional top spot is narrowing down the Bearcats and Cardinals, who are both continue to excel as the season gets later and later. L/E/M swept No. 9 Grafton and in North Star's return, they picked up a vote in this week's NDAPSSA Class B poll. 

"We just need to want it more and give more effort in the end," Page said. "We can't get freaked out. They [L/E/M] are a good team and we get a little scared, which a lot of teams do, so we have to be mentally prepared." 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for The Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-212