Williams: Favorite moments from every Lake Region volleyball team
his is not the season that any player on the court expected to have. However, at the same time, it's the season that every player on the court hoped to have.
Fans: none. Masks: up. Volleyball: sanitized. Games: postponed? It was a weird season for all seven Lake Region volleyball teams in the area, but in this climate, we were lucky enough to even have a season. Every team in the region was directly impacted by COVID-19, but 85 percent of the teams were able to bounce back and finish their seasons.
With the court now making the switch to basketball, here are my favorite moments from this season.
Four Winds/Minnewaukan: The fighting spirit
No one would ever wish for what happened this season to the Indians. After a two week postponement due to COVID-19 exposure on the team, in mid-October, the Indians were forced to forfeit the rest of their season. There are a few other teams that have felt the same way the Indians felt, but it's hard to duplicate that feeling elsewhere.
I only had one opportunity to watch in action Indians this season at Drake Anamoose on Sept. 14. While the Indians were swept, Four Winds locked up the school when they left the locker room. Fans had left, players had left, the custodians were cleaning up the gym, the athletic director was asking me why I was still there and the Indians were still in the locker room.
Upon exit, head coach Megan Callahan said the team talked about their overall energy and balancing their attack to get a lead back. The time spent in the locker room was spent reflecting and building up confidence, eventually resulting in a loud cheer to end the Indians' time isolated in the locker room.
Four Winds is still a young squad but shown glimpses of promise in junior outside hitter Myona Dauphinais and junior middle hitter Ezura Rainbow, both of who proved to have power on their swings. Development for the juniors on Four Winds' front row will be something to look out for in the future.
The Indians didn't want their season to end like this, but from the fight, I saw from them this past season, I'm excited to see them back on the court next fall.
READ: Four Winds-Minnewauken volleyball continues search for identity after loss to Drake-Anamoose
Devils Lake: Unlocking a new key against Wahpeton
Devils Lake only had one win this season but in that win, they capitalized on something that helped them through the rest of the season: confidence.
Something had to give against Devils Lake and Wahpeton on Sept. 12 as both teams had not won a game in the early season. The Firebirds would storm out to a commanding 2-0 lead, lead off by sophomore middle hitter Rachel Dahlen, but Wahpeton would claw back to force a decisive set five.
While there weren't any fans in the stands, besides the JV teams acting as the student section, you could feel the tension between both teams and the hunger for their first win of the season. Well, the Firebirds wanted it more, knocking off the Huskies 15-9 in the final set to snap the winless streak.
With a heavy senior core leaving this season, Dahlen's performance against Wahpeton showed that she will continue to be an anchor for the Firebirds next season. She would 11 kills and match that with nine blocks on the defensive end.
The confidence was abundant throughout as the Firebirds never lost focus of their goal to win. Even dropping a 2-0 lead after the Huskies won in extra points in the fourth set, Devils Lake tapped into a new sense of confidence that never stunned them.
Down the road, while games may have not ended in the Firebirds' favor, the team always found ways to stay competitive with some of the top competition in Class A and focus on playing the game they loved.
Nelson County: An unforgettable introduction against North Border
Dakota Prairie and Lakota high schools picked an interesting year to start a co-op. With a pandemic going on, limited practices, and turning rivals into teammates, there were a lot of factors seemingly pushing against the Chargers.
However, in their first game ever, Nelson County proved that they're ready to play. Hosting North Border in their debut, things quickly went south for the Chargers as they saw themselves down 2-0. In a comeback position, head coach Carrie Eidsness asked if the team wanted to lose its first game on its home court? The answer was a hard no.
Nelson County stormed back to take a four-point victory in set three, before winning in extra points to force a set five. The Chargers would eke out a two-point advantage in set five for the narrow win and complete the reverse sweep.
A shot from junior middle hitter Hollie Emory into the North Border player, who would miss the volley, would cause the Charger bench, and a small audience of parents to erupt inside the gym at Dakota Prairie. Senior outside hitter Kylee Baumgarn anchored the offense and would continue that trend throughout the entire season.
Nelson County would fare well in its first season as a team. Finishing at 5-8, having a lower game count due to a two-week quarantine. Nelson County would name Baumgarn and junior outside Marit Ellingson to the all-region team.
The Chargers would also have another high point in the season, going 2-0 out of quarantine, picking up back to back sweeps. However, the Chargers come from behind debut will be one player and coaches remember.
Benson County: Seven straight for the Wildcats
Unlike last season, where the Wildcats started 0-3, this fall they came charging out of the gate. They not only reversed last season's 0-3 start to a 3-0 start but extended their winning streak to 7-0, seeing Benson County atop of the Region 4 standings.
In that seven-game run, the Wildcats only lost three sets and outscored their opponents 549-359. Benson County capitalized off of a smooth sailing offense led off by senior setter Kearyn Nelsen pacing the play and junior middle hitter Desidy Schwanke acting as one of Nelsen's favorite targets.
Even in the backcourt, Benson County was executing on offense. Against St. John, the Wildcats would knock down 23 aces, and later on, in the season against Rolette/Wolford, they would win big, once again supported by 23 aces. The run was snapped by a 3-0 loss to North Star on Oct. 8, but the hot start gave the Wildcats confidence moving through their schedule.
Going 7-0 early on put Benson County at the top as a contender for the Region 4 title and had them in the hunt for a top-four spot up to the final day of the regular season. The Wildcats would go into quarantine for two weeks towards the end of October but would come back to go 3-2 in their final five games.
Benson County will be losing some of its offensive power coming to the court next season in Nelsen, outside hitter Kadrien Sten and rear hitter Maegan Parent, but will still maintain the bulk of its roster. With a successful run under their belt, the Wildcats will be back at the top of the standings next season.
New Rockford-Sheyenne: Keeping you chin up
Confidence has been something a lot of teams have talked about as an advantage, but New Rockford-Sheyenne (NRS) found a way to use it as a weapon this season.
After every game, even losses, the Rockets found silver linings in every finish and celebrated big when they won. In a 3-1 loss to Carrington, the Rockets rallied around the fact that they won their first set over the Cardinals in five years. In a sweep against L/E/M, NRS took advantage of having the Cardinals on their heels in set one and knew how to attack them.
While there were positive takeaways from the losses, the wins were a whole different story. After a Region 4 quarterfinals win over Harvey/Wells County, head coach Sara Myhre was cartwheeling in excitement. Even during the game, with the Rockets capping the finish off with a sweep, the players were smiling and laughing with their season on the line.
One of the keys to NRS' confidence was in its options to go to on the court. Night in and night out senior middle hitter Kayahna Hopfauf remained the Rockets weapon on offense. On the defensive end and transition game, senior setter Dani Bjerke remained a steady hand at the net while senior libero Cassie Longnecker was the Rockets' weapon in the backcourt.
The Rockets' confidence propelled them to a third-place finish in the regular-season standings, defeating Rolla in five sets to clinch the fourth spot. Their season would end at the hands of North Star in regional semifinals, but the Rockets are on the brink of challenging North Star and L/E/M for regional dominance.
North Star: Don't poke a sleeping Bear-cat
Three out of the five times I have watched North Star this season, they have played some of the most exciting volleyball I have ever seen. Who would've thought that the gym could get so loud?
The first time I watched them was a thrilling five-set win over then No. 9 Our Redeemers, seeing the Bearcats win set four in extra points and set five by only three points. The next game, while it was a loss, was probably the most exciting game I've watched all season. North Star would fall to another team receiving votes in the poll in Grafton, seeing almost every set come down to a less than three-point difference.
The final time I saw the Bearcats this season was against L/E/M in the Region 4 Championship. The Cardinals were red hot, but the Bearcats were challenged by NRS two days prior. It was going to be close, but I wasn't ready for how close it ended up being.
North Star would end up pushing the Cardinals to the limit, losing in five sets, but snapping L/E/M's 11-game sweep streak, winning the most sets over the Cardinals since 2018, completely reworking their performance from their last meeting with L/E/M and proving that they are one of the top forces in the state.
Junior middle blocker Danielle Hagler has been the Bearcats anchor all around the court since last season and has found ways to elevate her game even more. The captain has put up double-digit numbers in kills and digs throughout the season and has been North Star's spark plug throughout the season.
While Hagler is a popular target for the Bearcats offense, a lot of opponents knew where the ball was going. North Star continued to work on moving the ball around to open up different players and Bearcats the weapons were on full display in their final game.
Senior middle blocker Mackenzie Gleason became a popular weapon on the outside, catching L/E/M off guard. Senior outside hitter Sydney Staus was an unpredictable spark plug for the Bearcats and junior setter
Lindsey Nyhagen was a consistent playmaking force at the net. North Star's arsenal unloaded in their final game and did what two-state contenders couldn't do, challenge L/E/M.
North Star will be losing weapons in Gleason and Staus but will be returning Nyhagen and Hagler, who is even hungrier after falling short of the regional title. The Bearcats will be taking a harder blow with senior losses, but Hagler's presence has proved that she can elevate the roster around her to great heights.
L/E/M: Thompson (the train) derailed
The Cardinals have had a fantastic season. Another 20 plus win season, another regional title, and another state championship game appearance. While the season may have not ended the way the Cardinals have wanted it to, there was an aspect of their season that could truly pinpoint their growth.
L/E/M faced off against Thompson more than anyone else this season, three times. Both programs have built modern dynasties, with at least one squad making an appearance in five of the last six state title games. Also, neither team fell out of the top 10 rankings this season. Both teams were heavy favorites to win Class B this season and both teams dominated their schedules.
The Cardinals first saw the Tommies in their second game of the season, losing to them in five sets. A younger L/E/M squad fell victim to a handful of unforced errors, eventually giving Thompson a narrow path to victory. However, it was a game that the Cardinals said they had learned from and found places to grow.
After a postponement due to quarantine, the Tommies and Cardinals met again in Langdon in early October. The tables turned for the Cardinals as they would narrowly edge out Thompson on three of four sets to take a 3-1 victory. L/E/M's weapons of senior middle hitter Lexis Olson and junior outside hitter Morgan Freije would anchor the offense, but there would be another level the Cardinals would access further down the road.
L/E/M throughout the season had proven to be a strong team, but there was more they had to offer, and it became abundant in the state tournament. The Cardinals would meet the Tommies for the final time in Class B state semifinals, not only defeating Thompson again but sweeping them.
In their bout against Thompson for the third time, L/E/M saw players in freshman outside hitter Cora Badding and senior outside hitter Kaylee Lowery aid Olson and Frejie's effort. Badding would move into the stronger role on offense, while Frejie locked down on defense. Freshman setter Jalynn Swanson, who has been the Cardinals go to setter throughout the season, saw help from junior setter Morgan Thielbar.
When it mattered, L/E/M tapped into their depth, and it proved to be successful. The Thompson series shows the growth of the Cardinals throughout the season and gave insight into where L/E/M maybe next season.
The Cardinals are losing Olson and Lowery, however, they will be returning a handful of players who have built up the team's depth throughout the season. Next season, while there may be a period to fill the hold that Olson left, L/E/M will still be a dangerous team.
Final Region 4 standings
1. L/E/M 11-0
2. North Star 9-2
3. New Rockford Sheyenne 8-3
4. Rolla 9-4
5. Benson County 7-5
6. Harvey/Wells County 3-7
7. Dunseith 3-7
8. Nelson County 4-6
9. Rolette/Wolford 2-10
10. St. John 1-10
11. Four Winds/Minnewaukan 0-3