Three things to watch during the Class A East and Class B Region 4 Volleyball Tournaments

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – The regular season has concluded, and now, it is about the next step. For teams within the Class B – Region 4 side of the coin, their next step is at Devils Lake High School, where the 2021 NDHSAA Class B, Region 4 Volleyball Tournament will take place on Nov. 8-11. Meanwhile, the Devils Lake Firebirds will take part in a play-in against Valley City for a chance to participate in the 2021 NDHSAA Class A – East Region Volleyball Tournament at Grand Forks Red River High School starting on Nov. 9. 

Devils Lake vs. Valley City 10/26/21

As each team looks to leave their mark and have a shot at the next level, here are three things to watch as the tournaments begin to get underway. 

1. The year of the Middle Hitter 

Let’s cut right to the chase – there will be a ton of star power at the middle-hitting position. This star power has the experience, talent, height and drive to captain a court. For Devils Lake, it is all about Rachel Dahlen. In Benson County’s case, it comes in the form of senior Desidy Schwanke. In Langdon/Edmore/Munich’s case, it is the double-double machine in Morgan Freije. Then, there is North Star’s Danielle Hagler, who picked up her 2,000th-career kill during the Devils Lake Tournament back in September. 

How defending front rows contend with the passing and spiking prowess of the opposing middle hitters will be significant should they wish to mitigate any momentum said middle hitters create for both themselves and their supplementary outside hitters (more on this below). It will be tough, given the experience. So who makes the extra play? 

Langdon/Edmore/Munich vs. North Star 11/1/21

2. Keep an eye on the front row…defensively

The awareness and readability to anticipate an incoming kill might be the difference between a successful block or momentum-draining kill in favor of the opposing offense. From Devils Lake’s perspective, it will be up to Dahlen to maintain the bulk of this presence. Dahlen not only compiled four blocks during her most recent contest against Turtle Mountain on Nov. 1 but additionally penciled herself into the history books. With her 101 total blocks, Dahlen has officially beaten the single-season block record in the program. 

Devils Lake head coach Megan Sylling recognized the importance of the defense at the front of the net when her team faced off against Valley City on Oct. 26. This importance will need to translate once again should the Firebirds wish to win the play-in. 

“More block touches and confidence in knowing they could compete with Valley City,” Sylling said after the match. “They are able to get those set-ups and feed Rachel Dahlen and continue to work as a team and develop.” 

The Class B side of the equation will have a similar task on their hands. The middle hitters will do their job, but in what will potentially amount to a shootout, how the front row steps up, and by how much might be the difference it takes to get one extra block. With the star power on the offensive side, one more block could mean all the difference down the road. 

New Rockford-Sheyenne vs. North Star Volleyball 10/12/21

3. Communication 101 – who aces it?

The two previous points are all for naught if there is even a pinch of miscommunication. With each serve looking to have spin and each kill looking to have velocity, the ability to defensively position after the initial dig will be critical as a way to set up the ensuing pass. 

“With the girls we have now, we are going to practice rotations,” Benson County outside hitter Ashlyn Williams said after her team’s 3-0 victory against Nelson County on Oct. 28. “Serve and receive, and get where we are comfortable in our positions. Bring the talk in practice. We practice how we play, so as long as we bring energy in practice, go to our spots and communicate and just know what we are doing. Even with the girls out, and even if they come back during regionals, the girls that come in are still knowing what we are doing. We are going to get ready and make sure we work hard, and if we work hard, we play hard.” 

Rotating and finding familiarity with different player combinations will make each defense and offense feel more fine-tuned. This will only create a more significant strength in terms of starting and bench depth.