As Benson County returned home for the first time in half a month, playing in an empty Leeds gym due to new COVID-19 policies, things began going the Wildcats way. In their homecoming game post-quarantine, Benson County (8-2, 4-2 Region 4) dismantled Rolette/Wolford (2-12, 2-7 Region 4) 3-0 (25-7, 25-6, 25-5).

These past two weeks have felt like two months for the Wildcats. After Leeds High School moved into Phase 3 of its Health and Safety plan on Oct. 12, postponing all Benson County Wildcat sporting events, it was unknown whether or not the Wildcats would be continuing their season.

Head coach April Duchscher was at board meetings fighting for her team's season while players followed Duchscher's workouts over Zoom. After the Benson County co-op athletics board approved the Wildcats return to play, the team jumped in to play on their first day of eligibility against Rolla on Monday. However, the two-week fatigue caught up to the Wildcats, resulting in a 3-1 loss.

As Benson County returned home for the first time in half a month, playing in an empty Leeds gym due to new COVID-19 policies, things began going the Wildcats way. In their homecoming game post-quarantine, Benson County (8-2, 4-2 Region 4) dismantled Rolette/Wolford (2-12, 2-7 Region 4) 3-0 (25-7, 25-6, 25-5).

"We needed a finish like this," Duchscher said. "We had two weeks off, one practice and a game last night, where you could definitely tell that we hadn't been on the court for two weeks. This was my team. They're here, back, smiling, and having fun while they play."

The positive attitude uplifted the Wildcats through all three sets as players and were jumping off the bench and celebrating after a point scored. The Benson County bench made up for the lack of crowd noise and didn't have long to cheer for a Wildcat point after the serve.

Benson County locked down from the service line, combing for 23 aces in the game, led off by junior middle hitter Desidy Schwanke, who had 10 aces on the night. She was followed by senior outside hitter Mallorie Sabo (7) and sophomore middle hitter Jaylen Anderson (6).

"We've been practicing all season to serve aggressively and doing some spot serving," Duchscher said. "I left it up to them a few times. They need to be able to recognize where to serve too. It's also about being ready because you never know when the ball is going to come back on our side."

When the ball came back over the net, Benson County didn't let off. They limited the Comets to less than 10 points in every set, defeating them by 20 in the final set. Those who capitalized on the service line were also finding their way on the scoreboard as Schwanke would lead in kills with nine and Sabo would follow with six. On the defensive end, junior libero Isabelle Sundby recorded six digs while senior setter Kearyn Nelsen dished out 15 assists. The Wildcats opened up set three on a 13-0 run.

"Every point matters," Duchscher said. "We need to keep our spirits, intensity, and energy up throughout the entire game. We just gotta be us the whole time."

In missing so many games over the past two weeks, Benson County is making up five games this week alone. Thursday they host Nelson County at Maddock, Friday they travel to New Rockford-Sheyenne, and Saturday they are at No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich. Their mid-week games have given the Wildcats sometime to return at a slower pace, playing earlier and at home, before facing two of the top teams in the region.

In trying to avoid burnout and staying competitive, the Wildcats are taking each game at a time and aren't looking too far forward into their schedule. They're focusing on one aspect of the game at a time.

"We're just taking this one step at a time," Duchscher said. "One point, one set, and one game at a time. That's where we kind of backed up to because earlier in the season it was all about we have so and so in a couple of games. Tomorrow we have Nelson County, and that's first."

Another concept Benson County is looking to take control of is the handling of pressure in games to avoid burnout. The Wildcats are trying to make sure they're having fun on the court and not putting too much pressure on themselves when playing. Duchscher said self-pressure played a part in the team's loss against Rolla.

"We've been off for two weeks, so we can't be too hard on ourselves," Duchscher said. "I know a few girls are really competitive and hard on themselves. We did a team activity before tonight's game to get them relaxed and laughing. I then had that conversation with them just about relaxing and taking the pressure off themselves."

While Tuesday's win will go down as a sweep in the stat books, it was more than that to the Wildcats. With their quarantine starting and ending with losses, both of which were the team's only two losses of the season, the win over the Comets was a boost moving into a busy close to the regular season.

At the same time, the Wildcats are excited about their work heavy schedule as it will get them back to the pace that they were at, playing against regional competition, along with taking even more precautions to stay safe. With less than two weeks left in the regular season, Benson County is well aware that they can go back into quarantine and its season will be over.

"I told them last night that we gotta play like every game is our last," Duchscher said. "You never know which game is going to be our last because of COVID. Just seeing teams get shut down left and right, and we don't want that to happen to us. We just have to give it our all every game because you never know what's going to happen."

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