In their late-week showdown, Benson County (9-2, 5-2 Region 4) would take advantage of a slow start from Nelson County (5-6, 4-4 Region 4) to sweep the Chargers 3-0 (25-7, 25-19, 25-17). While the Wildcats did best the Chargers in straight sets, the effort wasn't as easy as it looked on paper.

Thursday night was the first time Benson County and Nelson County had ever faced off, however, the two teams have probably had what feels like the longest seasons out of everybody in their region. 

The Wildcats are in the process of playing a week's worth of games after having to suspend play for two weeks due to COVID-19 exposure at Leeds High School. The Chargers, in their first season, were shut down in late September due to COVID-19 exposure, and not only had to make up a handful of games later on but had a few games canceled. 

However, both squads have been in a good place in the standings throughout the season. Benson County has held a consistent spot in the top five while Nelson County had hung around the middle of the standings and the .500 mark on the season.

In their late-week showdown, Benson County (9-2, 5-2 Region 4) would take advantage of a slow start from Nelson County (5-6, 4-4 Region 4) to sweep the Chargers 3-0 (25-7, 25-19, 25-17). While the Wildcats did best the Chargers in straight sets, the effort wasn't as easy as it looked on paper. 

"We got into a funk there in the second set," Wildcats head coach April Duchscher said. "We even came out slow in the third set, but we found our energy and were able to come back. We have to be able to learn to come back from those situations and fight through it."

The Wildcats would cruise through the first set and would pull into the 20 point mark with a 10 point lead in the second set, however, the Chargers press late gave them a chance. Nelson County, while dropping the set, would go on a 9-4 run late to pull within five points of a tie. Three straight points in the run came off of killing errors from the Benson County side of the net. 

Trying to avoid a sweep, the third set saw Nelson County power to an early lead and control the majority of the match. The effort was led by senior Kylee Baumgarn, who finished with 13 kills, two aces, five digs, and an assist. Her presence on the court was key to keeping the Chargers within striking distance as she found ways to convert when offensive opportunities might've not been there. 

"Kylee is one of our captains on our team and she is a big leader," Chargers head coach Carrie Eidsness said. "She works hard and can place the ball. When she's hot, she's very, very hot. She can be spot on hitting and serving. She a big key when she's serving." 

At the same time, one of Benson County's captains was pacing play at the other side of the net and creating opportunities out of Charger killing attempts. Senior setter Kearyn Nelsen has been the Wildcats go to for offensive playmaking as she racked up 25 assists in Thursday night win. Sophomore middle hitter Jaylen Anderson proved to be Nelsen's favorite target as she would finish with a team-high 10 kills. 

"She's our spark plug and one of our captains for a reason," Duchscher said. "We definitely feed off her energy. We just need her not to be so hard on herself, relax, and play. When she does that, we're together. She keeps us cohesive."

As Nelson County would charge ahead in the third set, junior middle hitter Desidy Schwanke's offensive presence began to pull Benson County back into the game, seeing her score on four aces late in set three. She would have a strong night at the service line with 10 aces. The Wildcats would close out big, going on a 9-1 run to pick up the sweep. The game could've fallen out of the Wildcats hands during the second and third sets, but the finish taught Benson County some lessons about adapting their play.

"We just have to learn and adapt," Duchscher said. "We've just gotta know where their hitters are and be ready. It's just those little things we didn't get to practice on much in our one day back from two weeks off. We've improved each day since then and hopefully, we just keep moving up from here." 

For the Chargers, communication continues to remain something the coaching staff continues to push. That aspect trickles down to in-game adjustments for the team and mobility on the court. 

"I just kept telling them that they have to talk and move their feet," Eidsness said. "Talking a communication is key and we just couldn't get it together." 

Despite the finish, Nelson County has had a solid season as a first-year program. The Chargers have fallen to some of the top talent in the region, but have faired out well when it has come to mid-range competition. Nelson County closes out its schedule on Monday at New Rockford-Sheyenne before heading into post-season play. 

"Confidence is a big key," Eidsness said. "Lakota and Dakota Praire have never really been at the top of the bracket, so they've never really learned how to win. Now that we've got both teams together, that could be successful, they need to know and they need to bring that part of it." 

For the Wildcats, the team is just over the halfway point of their regular season catchup week, facing New Rockford-Sheyenne Friday and No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich on Saturday both on the road. Coming into these games and facing two teams that Benson County is fighting with at the top of the standings, Duchscher is making her team is taking things one at a time and not focusing on one team more than the other through the girl's passion for the game.

"We're just trying to stay on track and focused," Duchscher said. "We've been doing team-building things in the locker room before we come out and that has helped with relaxing. You can tell they're not as stressed out on the court. Our enthusiasm has been a lot higher since returning." 

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