No. 4 L/E/M sweeps North Star in battle of Region 4 heavyweights
Tale as old as time. True as it can be. Barely even friends, No, it's not Beauty and The Beast, the Cardinals and Bearcats. Two teams who have met in the Region 4 championship year after year and now each other all too well.
Since 2013 to two squads have faced off 15 times, with L/E/M holding the advantage 10-5. A handful of these meetings ended in one team's season-ending, where the other would move on to the state tournament, and in some cases win the state title. The Cardinals and Bearcats have some history between each other and another chapter of their "rivalry" was written on Monday in Cando.
The Bearcats would jump out to leads in all three sets of their game against the Cardinals, but slow comebacks in every set by No. 4 Langdon/Edmore/Munich (17-2, 8-0 Region 4) would propel the Cardinals to their sixth straight sweep and 14th straight win, defeating RV North Star (10-3, 6-1 Region 4) 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-20).
"It's was a big win for us tonight," Cardinals head coach Rich Olson said. "By the way, the postseason is set up this year, we can stay at home as long as we keep winning. However, there were a few things we needed to do better tonight. We didn't spot our serves the way we needed to and didn't get the hits from the pins, and part of that is attributed to them because they're so tough. Overall, I was proud that we were gritty, fought back, and battled."
The Cardinals went down early in set one, midway through set two, and midway through set three, but recovered each time. The recovery can be contributed to L/E/M's weapons in senior middle hitter Lexis Olson and junior outside hitter Morgan Freije, who both racked up 13 kills for the Cardinals. The duo also provided aid on the defensive end at Freije picked up 16 digs and Olson finished with 13.
However, North Star had Olson's number early on, forcing her to adjust later on in the game. The Bearcat's press was led off by junior middle blocker Danielle Hagler, who finished with 20 kills and 16 digs. Her effort on the defensive end was followed by junior outside hitter Gracie Miller, as she picked up 14 digs.
While she's only a junior, the Cardinals are very familiar with the style of attack the Hagler brings to the court and what they're in for. In being a favorite option for the Bearcats, her opponents are aware that the ball is coming to her, but that knowledge can only do so much when she is on the attack.
"We know that they want to go to her, so we know where she's going to be, but she's very fast," Olson said. "You have to be on her shoulder and hitting arm to put up a good block hoping she goes to her off-speed game, which is still exceptional. If you take away one thing, she can do another. You can't stop a player like Danielle Hagler, but only slow her down a bit."
North Star has been working to move the ball off of Hagler throughout the game and that effort was abundant in Monday's matchup. Early in set three, down three, seniors outside hitter Sydney Staus and middle blocker Mackenzie Gleason stepped forward to put the Bearcats back in the driver's seat. Staus would finish with four kills, three digs, and an ace, and Gleason would finish with six kills and 10 digs.
The Bearcats kept pace for all three sets and controlled the majority of the second set. Hagler continued to stand as North Star's weapon at midcourt, basically going head to head with Olson. However, Olson's adjustment late gave the Cardinals the extra edge to finish out all three sets.
"She was trying to do too much and be too finite early instead of just relying on her athleticism," Olson said. "She's that good of a player and she was just trying to do too much early. With her, I don't worry about her too much. She still was able to pass and had some big swings for us."
In addition to Olson's rise, L/E/M was able to pull Freije to the outside early off the rotation and clean out offensively from there. She had seven kills in set one not only to take the lead back for the Cardinals but to win the set as well. She would finish the night with the team's second-best killing efficiency at 37 percent.
Monday's meeting also held large seeding implications as the Cardinals victory locked down first place in the regional tournament. The first place seeding gives L/E/M home court advantage through the bulk of the tournament. North Star plays for a second-place tonight against New Rockford-Sheyenne, who is now riding hot on the Bearcats heels. The second-place winner moves to the other side of the bracket, while third place could end up on L/E/M's side.
The new format means that the Bearcats and the Cardinals could meet before the regional championship, at the regional championship, or could not meet at all. Over the past six seasons, one team's fate has been decided in the regional title game. However, both squads aren't focused on each other at this time.
"We're not even thinking about a rematch because we're both thinking about other teams," Olson said. "We might be in opposite brackets, so the only time we might play each other is to go to state. We just have to focus on right now and who we play. When it gets to the point in time where rematch is a reality, then we'll really focus on it."
Tuesday Lake Region volleyball scores
No. 4 L/E/M - 3 (25-17, 25-21, 25-20)
RV North Star - 0
Leaders: Kills - LEM: Lexis Olson (13), NS: Danielle Hagler (20), Digs - LEM: Morgan Freije (16), NS: Danielle Hagler (16), Assits - LEM: Jalynn Swanson (33), NS: Lindsey Nyhagen (19), Blocks - LEM: two players with three, NS: Danielle Hagler (1), Aces - LEM: Kylee Lowery (2), NS: three players with one
New Rockford-Sheyenne - 3 (25-7, 25-11, 25-17)
Nelson County - 0
Benson County - 3
Dunseith - 0