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Setting stage for more district games
October 4, 2019

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The Lady Panthers brought confidence and an undefeated varsity volleyball record with them when they took on the Lady Raiders of Drake-Anamoose High School in Drake Tuesday evening.

"Tonight the girls came out a little more on top of things than they normally do," noted Panther varsity coach Jessica Fritz. " They came out ready to fire."

Three wins by both schools' C and JV squads preceded the evening's main event, and coaching assistant Kim Anderson was ready on the sidelines, shouting encouragement and instructions to every Rugby squad for each game.

Anderson moved from courtside to courtside, occasionally adjusted tubing that attached her body to a small bag of chemotherapy medication sitting alongside her. Treatment day was always a better day, she said; maybe she wouldn't feel as well in the next few days, however. A trip to Rochester for more cancer treatment in three weeks was on her schedule, too.

Today, however, Anderson focused on her players. "We passed really well," she said of the younger teams. "Probably the best we've passed all season, and that's what helped us."

Both the 8-0 varsity Panthers and the 1-7 varsity Raiders turned their school spirit and adrenaline levels to high during the pre-game warm ups. Just before game time, the Lady Raiders linked arms in a circle, bouncing back and forth like pumped-up football players. The Rugby squad chanted a confident "Pan-thers!" and the players took their places.

Sarah Blessum served for the Panthers to start the first game, and a block by her cousin Brooke Blessum put the first Panther point on the board for the set.

A Kelly Swanson kill and Sarah Blessum ace followed, and soon the Panthers had a 5-0 lead. The Raiders answered with one point before the Panthers built on their lead, sending the Lady Raiders scrambling to the floor to return Panther volleys.

The Lady Panthers held Drake-Anamoose to just one point until mixed signals among the Panthers gave up a second one to the Raiders, who began a rally at 12-2.

Drake-Anamoose made efforts to stay on the Panthers' tail, but a Bella McCabe kill and blocks by Brooke Anderson and Brooke Blessum kept the Panthers in front.

The Raiders climbed back slowly, aided by a Jazzy Hase ace and out of bounds Panther return attempts, but a Swanson ace, more Brooke Blessum kills and a perfect tip by middle hitter Peyton Hauck kept the Panthers out in front.

Drake-Anamoose rallied again thanks to an Emmy Dockter tip and an Aydryen Felber ace that sent the Panthers diving to the floor. Another Raider ace, this time by Shania Martin helped boost the Drake-Anamoose point total, but they still trailed by 10 points as the Panthers put the final nail in the game 1 coffin with a 25-15 win.

The second game of the evening followed the same pattern, although the Raiders managed to pace the Panthers until the Panthers seemed to wear them out. The Panthers won by another wide margin, 25-16.

As the teams switched sides on the court for the final game, Drake-Anamoose seemed to revamp their playing style, keeping their eyes on the Panthers, and answering an early 2-1 Panther lead with a Rylee Martin service ace to tie.

The Raiders stayed on the Panthers' tail longer, and pulled ahead for the first time all evening, leaving the Panthers with a 4-6 deficit.

A few Rugby serve errors and an errant return that sailed into the stands helped the Raiders to maintain a one point lead and tie the score 8-8 as the Panthers kept within striking distance. Another Panther kill and two aces pulled Rugby ahead again, and the Panthers held a 10-8 lead by midgame.

The Raiders showed fatigue as they tried to keep pace with the Panthers, and their mistakes put the Panthers farther ahead.

A Brooke Blessum kill, Sarah Blessum ace and a team block by Brooke Blessum and Anderson maintained the Panther lead, but the Raiders rallied once again to narrow the score to a 15-13 Rugby lead.

Panther Aly Mundahl took advantage of unguarded space on the Raider court to drop one in for a 16-13 lead, but the Raiders fought on, narrowing the point gap again to 16-15 before a Panther timeout.

More strong front-row blocks by Anderson and Brooke Blessum, an out of bounds Panther kill attempt and a Sarah Blessum set and Anderson kill followed, and the score climbed to 19-16. More blocks sent Raiders diving in vain to the floor and the ball bouncing out of bounds from Raider hands. After a McCabe kill and a 22-16 Panther lead, Raider head coach Annie Arnold called a timeout.

The Panthers continued their climb to the finish with another Anderson kill, but an out of bounds Panther serve gave the Raiders a glimmer of hope with the score at 23-17. One more McCabe kill and a final Panther ace ended the evening, and the Panthers' 25-18 win added to their undefeated standing in District 11.

Fritz said the coaching staff prepared the Panthers to stay positive before the game.

"We talked about how it didn't matter if it was district or non-district; we've got to play confidently all the time," Fritz said.

Fritz said Tuesday's game was one of several district games for the Panthers.

"The next three are all district games," she noted. "You have to be focused and have to be aggressive."

"We knew (Drake-Anamoose) is a scrappy team and they can get under a lot of things, so we just talked about being aggressive all the time and being ready. We talked about how to block, where to hit."

Fritz said the Panthers continue to work on communication to make sure the ball is always covered and signals aren't crossed.

"We talk about communication every day; every game, every practice," Fritz said. "Once you're not communicating, the game tends to fall apart, and tonight we didn't communicate as well at times and it showed. So, these are those games you talk about this is why we do what we do."

Stats for Tuesday's game were not available.

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