No. 4 L/E/M, New Rockford-Sheyenne pick up wins in impromptu 'tournament'

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
L/E/M senior middle hitter Lexis Olson blocks a Rocket shot in a game against New Rockford-Sheyenne on Oct. 20 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School. The Cardinals won 3-0.

Playing sports amidst a Pandemic has created a lot of new and interesting situations for sports teams at all levels around the world. Professional leagues have adapted to a bubble model and some college conferences haven't allowed fans in the stands during games. In North Dakota, the change has mainly been adapting to a schedule that is never really set in stone. 

Tuesday night in New Rockford was a busy one for No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich, New Rockford-Sheyenne, and Harvey/Wells County as they all played catchup in their schedule, facing one another throughout the night. All three teams have had to go into quarantine at one point over the past month due to COVID-19 exposure, forcing the teams to sit out for two weeks.  

No. 4 L/E/M (14-2, 6-0 Region 4 ) was the big winner of the night, sweeping the Rockets 3-0 (25-23, 25-7, 25-16) and Hornets 3-0 (25-12, 25-8, 25-11). While it dropped its first game of the night, New Rockford-Sheyenne (7-5, 4-1 Region 4) bounced back in its Senior Night game to sweep Harvey-Wells (5-6, 3-4 Region 4) 3-0 (25-22, 25-15, 25-15). 

While it may seem like Tuesday's games' don't mean too much to the Cardinals, the pair of wins allow L/E/M to build upon in place in the regional stands and to get closer to securing home court in the upcoming regional tournament. North Star, New Rockford-Sheyenne, and Benson County still have a chance to catch the Cardinals for first place if they slip up. 

Coming into their matchup against the Rockets on a nine-game win streak, NRS went toe to toe in set one with L/E/M. The set was tied up to the 23rd point before the Cardinals weapons of senior middle hitter Lexis Olson and junior outside hitter Morgan Freije took over to make some room and close out the set. 

"Some of it was us and some of it was them when it came to the close finish," Cardinals head coach Rich Olson. "They [NRS] came out with a lot of energy and made some plays, but we just had a lot of errors. We have 14 or 15 in that first set and sometimes you just don't get off to a good start. Good teams are able to fight through it and I thought we did a good job of that." 

This is the second time in less than a week that the Cardinals have had to adjust to an early surge from their opponent as they went down 1-0 to Rugby on Saturday before winning in five. L/E/M capitalized off a handful of Rocket errors, going up 13-3 early and eventually winning the set. Set three saw L/E/M execute while errors continued to set back NRS late. 

"We had better location, passing, serving, and didn't miss as many serves in the second and third sets," Olson said. "We got the ball to our pin hitters and they did what we hoped to do, getting the ball in a position where they could terminate." 

As soon as their first game finished, the Cardinals were back on the court for their game against Harvey/Wells 25 minutes later. L/E/M rolled off its momentum from the first game into a 25-12 set one win, seeing senior outside hitter Kaylee Lowery play a major role in the effort with six kills and two aces in the set.

Set two saw Freije move onto the outside lines and control the offense from there, collecting four of six L/E/M kills in a short stretch. Freije has been a weapon for the Cardinals on the outside, and when she moves into that position, L/E/M does what it can to make sure she stays there for as long as possible.

"She's one of the best pin hitters in the state," Olson said. "She has such a high reach and a lot of right side blockers are not equipped to combat what she does. We're thankful she's a big weapon for us on the outside."  

With the team rolling to 11 straight wins, and a week off before facing No. 8 Grafton next Tuesday, the Cardinals are thankful for some time off before heading into their final stretch of the regular season. They wrap up regular season play against the Spoilers (Oct. 27), North Star (Nov. 2), and a potentially rescheduled game against Benson County. 

"I think everybody, especially this time of year, wants to give their team a break because they need to have a mental break from everything," Olson said. "We'll practice tomorrow, have a few days off and practice over the weekend. It's going to go quicker than people think and a few days away from the game can be a good way to reset yourself." 

In its first game against L/E/M, both teams were committing a heavy amount of errors in set one, which benefitted the Rockets. However, NRS struggled to adjust, leading to a sweep. The Rockets did adjust to find their blocking late in set three, but it wasn't enough. 

Coming into its second game, the Rockets took off off a dominant performance from senior middle hitter Kayahna Hopfauf. Her performance in set two specifically, seeing her rack up nine kills and an ace, led NRS to a dominant set two win. She would finish out the game with 17 kills and two aces.

"Once she's on, she's on, and we just keep feeding it to her," Rockets head coach Sara Myhre said. "If she's not getting blocked, that's who we go to. She was definitely on tonight." 

While errors proved costly in its game against the Cardinals, the Rockets mental focus against the Hornets was what pushed them forward according to Myhre. NRS won sets two and three by 10 points, highlighted by a 13-1 run and a 9-2 run. The Rockets also forced Harvey/Wells into forcing errors, as they did against L/E/M. 

"The biggest thing was getting the team back into the game and lifting each other with their attitude," Myhre said. "If you make a mistake, you recognize it, let it go, and get back into the game. Their momentum picked up a little more." 

Alongside Hopfauf's performance, NRS saw standout finished from senior libero Cassie Longnecker (22 digs, 4 aces), senior setter Dani Bjerke (25 assists, five digs), and senior middle hitter McKayla Waldo (seven kills). The win gave the Rockets a split of Tuesday night's doubleheader. 

NRS is still making an adjustment coming back to the court as they are the most recent area team to come off of quarantine. It's been a game of catchup for the Rockets, setting back the team a little bit, but Myhre said the team is coming along well.  

"We a lot of games, so it's taken away from our practices, which can be good or bad," Myhre said. "We have a good week of practices, but we'll be playing a lot of regional games soon right after that." 

In coming back to a jam-packed schedule, Myhre said the team has been so excited to return that fatigue hasn't been a factor. Since its return, NRS has gone 4-2 in regional play to stay towards the top of the regional standings. 

"When we were quarantined for those two weeks, I think it took a toll on them and they thought their season was over," Myhre said. "When they get on that court and get to practice to play, I don't see fatigue. I see a lot of energy and excitement that we get to play during COVID." 

Unlike its other regional opponents, the Rockets have a handful of games left before the postseason and sits on the edge of a top-three spot in the region. NRS faces some heavy competition in Benson County and North Star before the end of the season, but they believe that they are ready for any challenge ahead, specifically if they happen to meet L/E/M again in the tournament.

"If we meet them again, I think we have a chance of beating them," Myhre said. "That's the team to beat and getting that close was a confidence booster for us. I think if we remain confident and continue to work on our skills, I think it'll take us far." 

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.

Senior Kayahna Hopfauf celebrates a point scored with her teammates in a game against L/E/M on Oct. 20 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School.

Tuesday Lake Region volleyball scores

No. 4 L/E/M - 3 (25-23, 25-7, 25-16) 

New Rockford-Sheyenne - 0 

No. 4 L/E/M - 3 (25-12, 25-8, 25-11) 

Harvey/Wells - 0 

New Rockford-Sheyenne - 3 (25-22, 25-15, 25-15) 

Harvey/Wells - 0 

Rolla - 3 (25-11, 25- 13, 25-23) 

Nelson County - 1 (25-21) 

Grand Forks Central - 3 (27-25, 25-13, 25-21) 

Devils Lake - 0