Preview: Class B Region 4 volleyball tournament
It's been a long season for all nine teams entering the postseason. Every team in the Lake Region has had to postpone games due to COVID-19 exposure at their schools. Some teams won't be participating in the tournament due to COVID-19.
Despite the pandemic, the postseason is moving forward, and Class B Region 4 is looking like it'll be a competitive one once again. Here is the Devils Lake Journal's preview for the upcoming Region 4 volleyball tournament.
No. 1 Langdon/Edmore/Munich vs. No. 9 Dunseith
at Langdon Area High School
After losing a handful of seniors coming into this season, many expected the Cardinals to be playing down from where they were last season.
However, L/E/M has shown little distress this season as they have not lost a set or a game in regional play this season. The Cardinals have lost two games this season, No. 2 Thompson on 3-2 on Sept. 10 and Carrington on Sept. 19, however, the Cardinals would avenge the loss to the Tommies on Oct. 10 in a 3-1 victory.
While L/E/M has faced a challenging out of conference slate, they've maneuvered through regional play with ease. The Cardinals have been challenged in the region, despite picking up multiple sweeps. New Rockford-Sheyenne, Benson County, and North Star have all pulled within less than five points of defeating L/E/M in a set.
On offense, junior outside hitter Morgan Freije continues to stay red hot attacking along the outside lines, with a lot of teams struggling to respond to her attack. Senior middle hitter Lexis Olson has provided a spark for the Cardinals on the attack and defense. Olson and Freije have stood out as the Cardinals weapons on the front line and have done damage night after night to their opponents.
Freshman setter Jalynn Swanson has played a key playmaking role for L/E/M this season, dishing out 20 plus assists a night. Senior outside hitter Kaylee Lowery and freshman outside hitter Cora Badding have provided even more offensive depth to the Cardinals, posting up around 10 kills each per night.
L/E/M has a chance to once again run the table in Region 4 and move on to the state tournament, but other teams have been able to jump on the Cardinals quickly, putting L/E/M into a comeback position. North Star and New Rockford-Sheyenne both jumped out to early leads against the Cardinals and fought neck and neck. However, while challenged, L/E/M has proved they can finish if they're down or up on the scoreboard.
L/E/M and Dunseith have not faced off this season.
No. 2 North Star vs. No. 7 Nelson County
at North Star High School
Right on the heels for first place in Region 4 are the Bearcats. Outside of Monday's loss to L/E/M, North Star had not lost a set in regional play. In that stretch, North Star has swept teams at the top of the regional standings including New Rockford-Sheyenne, Benson County, and Rolla.
The Bearcats have also gone toe to toe with some of the top teams in all of class B. On Sept. 15, North Star bested then No. 9 Our Redeemers in five sets. A few weeks later, the Bearcats narrowly fell to No. 10 Grafton. North Star has gained some attention from around the state as they have been in and out of the NDAPSSA poll.
The Bearcats have been led by their all-state middle blocker in senior Danielle Hagler, who has been finishing with a double-double in kills and digs. Her quickness on defense and offense has been a key factor in the Bearcats' success this season. Earlier this season, as a junior, she picked up her 1500 career kill.
While Hagler has played a major role in the Bearcats offensive production, senior middle blocker Mackenzie Gleason has proven to be another option for the North Star, specifically on the outside. Gleason puts up near 10 kills per game and a steady amount of digs as well. Junior setter Lindsey Nyhagen has played heavily into her role under the net and senior middle hitter Sydney Staus has also stood out as another offensive option at the net.
While having the firepower of Hagler, the Bearcats have worked to move the ball off of her as opponents have keyed into her as games have progressed. In their loss to Grafton, the Spoilers put three blockers on Hagler to shut her down in the third set. Many teams have placed two blockers onto Hagler.
The Bearcats have managed to find offensive production in moving the ball off of Hagler. Against Dunseith, North Star saw its roster shine beyond Hagler and against L/E/M saw Gleason and Staus step up in set three to take a lead over the Cardinals.
North Star is once again a heavy contender to win the regional title. The Bearcats have made it to the title game the past five seasons but last won the championship in 2014.
In its first season, the Nelson County Chargers fall into the seventh seed, one short of a play in-game, in the regional tournament. In the expanded tournament last season, Dakota Prairie and Lakota fell into the 9/8 game with the Knights pulling out a 3-1 victory over Raiders.
The Chargers come into the regional tournament with four regional against Four Winds/Minnewauken, Rolette/Wolford, Rolla, and a five-set win over Dunseith. In non-conference play, the Chargers have picked up wins over Griggs-Midkota and May-Port-C-G.
On the attack, senior outside hitter Kylee Baumgarn has controlled the offensive attack for Nelson County this season. While she has been able to take control on the front line, she has proven to be even more of a weapon on the service line, racking up points on aces in Charger wins.
On defense, junior defensive specialist Paytan Lippert has led the effort in digs, putting up team-high numbers in the category. At the net, Nelson County has had to playmakers to go to in junior outside hitter Marit Ellingson and junior setter Abi Larson.
As a young team, communication continues to be something Nelson County continues to perfect on the game in and game out. Heading into the tournament, the Chargers faced the brunt of the region's top talent, going 0-3 in their final three games of the regular season.
However, the Chargers have been another team to challenge their opponents through three sets. Nelson County almost caught Benson County in sets two and three and won a set over the fourth seat Rolla.
North Star and Nelson County have not met this season
No. 3 New Rockford-Sheyenne vs. No. 6 Harvey/Wells County
at New Rockford-Sheyenne High School
The Rockets have flirted with the top three in the standings throughout the season. For the bulk of it, New Rockford-Sheyenne (NR-S) hung around the four and five spots, having to contest with Benson County and Rolla throughout the majority of the season.
However, towards the end of the season, facing some of the top talents in Region 4, the Rockets proved that they deserve to lock in the three-seat. In their final seven games of the season, NR-S went 7-2, with its only losses coming to the seats above them: L/E/M and North Star. This finish also came off the heels of a two-week quarantine.
After being swept by the Cardinals, the Rockets swept out their regional quarterfinals opponent in Harvey/Wells County and followed that with two five-set wins over Griggs-Midkota and Rolla. Besting Rolla to move up in the standings, NR-S swept out Benson County, picking up a lot of momentum heading into the postseason.
Senior middle hitter Kayahna Hopfauf has been the anchor on the front line for NR-S for once she gets into a rhythm, it is hard to stop her. The senior has led the Rockets in kills for most of its finishes. Senior setter Dani Bjerke continues to be the main playmaker under the net, putting up double-digit numbers in assists a night in and night out.
On the defensive end, senior libero Cassie Longnecker has seized the role for NR-S and had been a key to keeping the Rockets in tight games and sometimes giving them the extra edge to victory. One thing the Rockets have an advantage in is that they spread the wealth around their roster, not having to stand out players dominate the game.
NR-S can be a dark horse for this tournament as it has left most of its games, even losses, with a ton of confidence. The Rockets jumped on L/E/M early and almost stole a set from them, won their first set over Carrington in more than five seasons, ousted Benson County for a contested seat in the region, and challenged North Star for three straight sets. The key for the Rockets is finishing and they head into this tournament aware of what they will and might face.
New Rockford-Sheyenne - 3 (25-22, 25-15, 25-15)
Harvey/Wells County - 0
No. 4 Rolla vs. No. 5 Benson County
at Rolla High School
This might be the "must watch" game of the first round. Benson County played a long week of volleyball last week, as they were making up for games lost due to a two-week quarantine. The Wildcats did pick up big wins over Rolette/Wolford and Nelson County but struggled when facing teams that finished above them in L/E/M, North Star, and NR-S later in the week.
The Wildcats had returned from the pause against Rolla on Oct. 27 and lost 3-1 to the Bulldogs. However, with only one practice under their belt in two weeks, Benson County vouches that its game against Rolla didn't really speak to the tone of where the team was at.
Like their game against Rolla in this late-season stretch, the Wildcats have been put into a handful of situations where they've made a comeback but fell a few points short of finishing the set.
Against the Bulldogs, set four would go to extra points, with Rolla finishing out the game 26-24. Facing NR-S, Benson County had tied the game at 25 after being down by more than five in set three, however, the Rockets would end up pulling through 27-25. The Wildcats have been knocking at the door multiple times this season, but just haven't made that extra step.
Despite the finishing struggles, from early on in the season the Wildcats have stood out as a top team in Region 4. Benson County was 7-1 before the pause, with their lone loss coming to North Star, and completely dominated the bottom half of the region.
On the front line, the Wildcats have been paced by senior setter Kearyn Nelsen and junior middle hitter Desidy Schwanke. Nelsen has put up double-digit assists numbers game in and game out, while Schwanke has held down the brunt of the offense in kills. The duo has been able to take control of games, whether the Wildcats are up or down.
Another facet of the game Benson County has been able to capitalize on the service line. A handful of times this season, the Wildcats combined for more the 10 aces a game, credited to a mix of the players and coaches calling the serves. The serving efforts are what led the Wildcats to a dominant finish over the Comets on Oct. 28.
In their game coming up against Rolla, it can go either way. The Bulldogs have played well against teams close to them in the rankings, but have also struggled when it wasn't really expected. Rolla has been a little bit all over the map, but in the end, a narrow loss to NR-S and a win over its opponent Tuesday puts them in a good place.
Benson County is continuing to ride off of the excitement of returning back to play and keeping a season alive that started off so well, going 7-0 out of the gate. The Wildcats have proved that they can blow through the midway point and bottom of regional competition, but need to pick up a win over a top-four squad to keep hopes alive.
Rolla - 3 (25-15, 25-20, 26-24)
Benson County - 1 (25-18)
Four Winds-Minnewauken will not be playing in the Region 4 tournament
Due to COVID-19 exposure, Four Winds-Minnewauken cancelled the rest of its season on Oct. 23. The Indians finish their season at 0-5.
They will be graduating one senior in defensive specialist RayAnn Greene.
They will be returning junior outside hitter Myona Dauphinais, who continues to clean up her attack at the net and has shown to be a weapon for the Indians on offense. Another weapon Four Winds will be bringing back is junior middle hitter Ezura Rainbow, who has taken advantage of her height in the front row.
The Devils Lake Journal offers its support to the athletes and coaches of Four Winds-Minnewauken volleyball in that everyone in the community continues to stay safe and hopes that the Indians will be able to return back to the court next season.