Lake Region State women's volleyball benefitting from delayed start to season

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Royals outside hitter Morgan Anderson prepares to hit the ball in a game against Bismarck State on Feb. 3 at Devils Lake High School. The Royals lost 3-0.

It's safe to say that every sports league around the United States has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it's cancelations, postponements, new guidelines, or even exposure, every level of every sport around the country has been impacted. 

For the NJCAA, all varsity sports to be played in the 2020-21 school year were delayed from starting in the fall to starting in January 2021. Sports like basketball didn't receive too much of a bump from their regular schedule as their seasons would be about two months delayed. March Madness would become April Adrenaline or something like that, but the majority of the season would stay intact for both teams.

However, for the Lake Region State women's volleyball team, in a regular season, they would've finished their season almost three months ago. Winter has now become fall for the Royals, and they are just now diving into their schedule, hosting their fourth game of the season against Bismarck State. 

It may be one of the team's first bouts of the season facing competition from another school, but the Royals have been on the court for months now, adjusting to a freshman heavy roster and a new coaching style. Most teams may get hit hard by having their season delayed a few months, but LRSC took advantage of the time to slowly adjust to all the change. 

"We had a lot of time to get to know each other and play on the court together, so I think that was a good advantage for us," sophomore middle blocker Mardi Scutchings said. "We were all able to make those friends and see how other people play than just coming in and starting. Especially now knowing what Steve wants and expects, we've practiced all these months and have gotten to know each other. It's more of an advantage for us."

Prior to the start of the pandemic, eight year former Royals head coach Brigitte Greywater announced that she'd be taking over the head coaching position at Valley City State, leaving the head coach position vacant. Three months later, with COVID-19 now impacting lives all over the world, LRSC announced the hiring of it's current head coach Steve Waddell. 

Having to adjust to a new coaching strategy, six freshman and dealing with issues related to COVID-19, the few months off gave the Royals time, which they might've not had in a regular season, to move at a steady pace. By the time late January came around, the Royals were already building on the new system they've had in place for months.

"We've been living in the COVID world for a semester now and now I feel like the girls really value the fact that we get to play," Waddell said. "They also learned my system. We had three solid months of them settling into who I was as a coach and learning who they are as players. For my first year, it was kind of a best scenario." 

In coming into the program with a fresher roster, the time off game Waddell more time to make an early impact in the program. Waddell said it has been a little bit of a task to take over a program that was run so long by Greywater, but has slowly eased his way in. 

"Now that we've started playing, there's a lot more trust," Waddell said. "The kids are starting to buy into what I do, which is nice to see." 

Playing in their second back-to-back matchup of the season on Wednesday, the Royals were looking to key into their defensive game against the Mystics. Tuesday night, LRSC was swept by Bismarck State and was looking for a response to a strong offensive rotation. While the result didn't change much from Tuesday, falling to the Mystics 3-0 (25-9, 25-17, 25-16) again, the Royals responded with a "scrappy" attack that showed growth from night tonight.

Sophomore defensive setter Jensen Gabora prepares to serve the ball in a game against Bismarck State on Feb. 3 at Devils Lake High School.

"I thought we played really scrappy," Waddell said. "We some really good defensive plays and we're starting to click a little more on offense. We played Bismarck last night and they beat us more last night than they did tonight, so I'm ok with it. If we can go out a get a little better everyday I call that success." 

Scrappiness from the Royals can be broken down into the team's digging effort, especially in the third set. Sophomore defensive specialist Jensen Gabora led the Royals effort on defense, picking up 12 digs. She was followed by sophomore outside setter Jadaeya Morrell, who picked up eight digs. 

LRSC made the Mystics work for their offensive opportunities, but Bismarck State was able to convert on any curve ball that the Royals had tried to throw at them. They were lead off by Becca Nitsch with 10 kills and Megan Anderson with nine close. 

"I haven't seen another team hit the ball that well on a three person attack and I thought they were doing a good job hitting the line on that," Scutchings said. "I think that's something that we've never seen and possibly start doing on our team too." 

On offense, the team did see some adjustment to the prior night, wanting to swing at every ball that came their way and limit the amount of free balls that they would send over the night. In the offensive effort, three players neared 10 kills in freshman Bella Hone (9), Scutchings (8) and Morrell (7).

"We attacked a lot more balls coming from the back row than free balling them over and that gave us more of an advantage because they couldn't run a free ball play on us," Scutchings said. "Just hitting the ball over just helps us get them out of system and they can't really attack us as hard." 

Coming out of the midweek meetings with the Mystics, going up against a high powered offense has showed the Royals where they need to clean up and improve on before heading into the next game. Waddell said Bismarck State showed his squad the level and intensity they need to play at. 

The Royals don't have much of a break before they are back on the competitive court as they Dawson Community College in Montana on Saturday. Three games in four days can catch up to a young squad, but the Royals are hoping to keep pushing forward.

"We're not super deep, but these kids work super hard and play with a lot of heart," Waddell said. "I think think we just have to stay healthy and keep using our options. We do have a few players that can step into multiple roles which will help. I think we need to make a few tweaks to our lineup which will keep us a little more fresh. Overall, these kids want to play and do whatever it takes to do that."

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 701-662-2127.