No. 4 L/E/M recovers from slow start to top No. 7 Rugby in five sets
Playing catchup is something that the Cardinals haven't had to do a lot of this season. It's only happened three times this season, with the Cardinals losing two out of the three games (Thompson on Sept. 10 and Carrington on Sept. 19).
A slow start on Saturday against Rugby, seeing the Cardinals dropping sets one and three, L/E/M was in a comeback position. After forcing a set five by eight points, No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich (11-2, 4-0 Region 4) squeezed past No. 7 Rugby (12-3, 6-0 Region 6), 3-2 (27-29, 25-20, 21-25, 25-17, 15-13).
"To be honest with you, we were flat for the majority of the night, but I give our girls a lot of credit for battling and fighting through it, and making enough plays to come up with a win," Cardinals head coach Rich Olson said. "We were fortunate to beat this team because Rugby is a very good team. There were things that we could've done better, but there were things that we did really well."
On the road to coming back, L/E/M struggled to figure out Rugby's 5-foot-11-inch middle hitter Brooke Blessum. Her blocking abilities and height at the night put the Cardinals defense to work as the team would amount to 98 digs on the night, led off by junior outside hitter Morgan Freije (24). L/E/M also saw a surge on the block as senior middle hitter Lexis Olson picked up five blocks and senior outside hitter Kaylee Lowery had four.
"We just spread the ball around and took advantage of where we could get a single block," Olson said. "A lot of times that isn't an advantage when Brooke [Blessum] is on the other side because she's so tall. We tried to get them out of system and into manageable situations."
The Cardinals found their key to getting the Panthers out of system on the service line as a low hanging serve that would fall on the left side forced Rugby to dive in order to keep the ball in play. Cardinals would jump out to a 5-1 lead in set one and hold down a lead to the 15th point.
"We mixed it up a little bit on the service line and tried to drop a few short ones," Olson said. "We have a few girls on our team that are pretty darn good at that. It's about having the guts to call it and having the guts to execute it."
L/E/M picked up a handful of aces in the win, with four coming off of Lexis Olson. Olson was a dominant force throughout the game as she would lead not just in blocks and aces, but picked up 21 kills and would come in second in digs with 21. Freije came in second in kills with 19 followed by freshman outside hitter Cora Badding (14).
Saturday's close finish against the Panthers is another element of how L/E/M has designed its schedule, in a season without tournaments, to put the Cardinals up against some of the best talent in the state. L/E/M has faced No. 3 Thompson (twice), No. 5 Rugby, Our Redeemers, Carrington, and was supposed to face No. 1 Linton-HMB before a COVID-19 outbreak at Langdon forced the team into quarantine. The Cardinals still have matchups left against No. 9 Grafton and North Star before the postseason.
"Without tournament play, we wanted to beef up our schedule as much as we could with regular-season matches," Olson said. "I think we did a good job of picking out a team like Rugby because you want to challenge yourself as much as you can."
In every match, win or loss, Olson said the team learns and gets better. In another tight win, Olson said the finish exposed a few things about the team that they need to work on going into the next week. However, the comeback also showed that L/E/M has the weapons to recover when needed.
"We probably had half a dozen or more 50/50 balls where we didn't say the word mine, which is fundamental," Olson said. "We just have to be louder. We just need to get better at the little things. I match like this exposes some of those things and allows us to go back to practice and work on some of those things."
The small things are fixable, but the comeback adds an element of confidence the Cardinals can use moving forward. L/E/M has a busy week next week, hosting Park River on Monday and taking on New-Rockford Sheyenne and Harvey/Wells County on Tuesday in New Rockford. As the regular season nears an end, the Cardinals are still aiming to improve every day.
"Our girls are showing as our season goes on that their confidence is growing," Olson said. "We hope to be playing our best volleyball as we head into November."
Saturday Lake Region volleyball scores
No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich - 3 (25-20, 25-17, 15-13
No. 7 Rugby - 2 (29-27, 25-21)
Leaders: Kills - Lexis Olson (21), Digs - Morgan Frejie (24), Assists - Jalynn Sawanson (55), Aces - Lexis Olson (4), Blocks - Lexis Olson (5)
West Fargo Sheyenne - 3 (25-13, 25-19, 25-12)
Devils Lake - 0
Leaders: Kills - Rachel Dahlen (5), Digs - Jadyn Frelich (11), Assists - Brynn Johnson (8), Aces - four players with one, Blocks - Rachel Dahlen (3)
No. 1 Cavalier - 56
Nelson County - 14
VB - New Rockford-Sheyenne vs. Harvey/Wells County