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Blessums change the way Panthers do volleyball
September 21, 2018

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From intense games on the farm to the courts around Region 6, the Blessums of Rugby know a little something about volleyball.

Making up a part of Rugby's varsity volleyball squad are four family members: sisters Sarah and Maria Blessum and cousins Kelly Swanson and Brooke Blessum.

"We've been playing together since we were really little," Maria said. "Our parents all play it in co-ed leagues and we have older siblings that play."

Growing up with volleyball as an everyday topic and activity, the Blessums and Swanson bring that passion to the court in Rugby.

"It makes it more fun to play because we're playing with each other," Sarah said. "We kind of know what someone is going to do if the ball goes to them."

That kind of familarity can be traced back to the whole family playing on the farm. A tradition that continues on to this day.

"It's fun. It gets really competitive at times and there's fights, but at the end of the day we all know we love each other," Maria said.

Not only is volleyball a farm activity, it's played inside the house as well. The Blessum girls are constantly looking for ways to improve their game even when stuck indoors.

"We've broken a lot of lamps," Maria said with a laugh. "We play volleyball over the couch."

"Yeah, our mom gets really mad at us," Sarah added.

As a sophomore, Sarah is the Panthers starting setter. She often sets up her senior sister, Maria, or sophomore Brooke for kills. Maria specializes as an outside hitter, while Brooke is in the middle.

In her senior year, Maria not only steps onto the court with experience, but also with a newfound leadership role as a team captain.

"She's kind of been the gel that has brought this team together," Panthers head volleyball coach Jessica Fritz said. "She studies this game inside and out all the time She's almost like another coach."

Swanson comes off the bench for the Panthers and is someone Fritz relies on because she can play and be competitive at any position.

"She's lucky, she can kind of fit a lot of different roles for us," Fritz said. "She's a very versatile player for us. She's my go-to girl off the bench for a lot of things and she never holds that against her cousins."

Fritz emphasizes creating good team chemistry whenever possible and it shows.

"These guys are competitive against other people, but they're not competitive against each other," Fritz said. "They always want to see the other one do better because they know if Brooke's hitting really well that makes everything better for the team. They're not selfish when it comes to it."

It's hard to deny that the bond between the four relatives is truly something special.

"There's definitely a different chemistry with these four than there are sometimes with others," Fritz said, "They're close as a whole team. But, these four, they definitely have something a little more unique."

This unique chemistry has helped contribute to the success of the Panthers so far. They are currently undefeated in the regular season and have only dropped one game in tournament play.

It has been a great start, but the team knows the season is far from over.

"We know we have to keep playing hard because there are better teams coming that we need to be ready for," Maria said. "We can't let our guard down at any time."

Sarah leads the team this year with assists at 388.

"I like it when I set one up for them and they get a kill. It's so fun seeing them get excited," Sarah said.

Maria leads the team in kills with 141, followed by fellow senior Anni Stier with 91 and Brooke with 90. Brooke makes her presence known at the net, leading the team in blocks with 21.

"I like feeling the rush of it when we're doing well," Brooke added.

Swanson enjoys seeing the success of her teammates in the heat of the game.

"When one person gets a point and everyone cheers, it's fun to be a part of that," she said.

Maria mentioned that it's cool being a part of something that is bigger than just herself. Volleyball for the Panthers is about everyone doing well and helping each other out.

"Their bond is definitely something that kind of flows into the whole team," Fritz said. "We only have 10 girls right now on our varsity team and when you think that four of them are cousins, that kind of builds a little bit of a different culture all together."

Gerard is a staff writer for the Minot Daily News.

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