Lions looking to do some damageCoaches across the board always hope their team will be on top of its game come tournament time. But the hoping is over for Linton-Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock volleyball coach Jaime Richter, because the Lady Lions are currently bringing it.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
Coaches across the board always hope their team will be on top of its game come tournament time.
But the hoping is over for Linton-Hazelton-Moffit-Braddock volleyball coach Jaime Richter, because the Lady Lions are currently bringing it.
Linton-HMB bowled through the competition without losing a set at last week’s Region 3 tournament on their home court. The Lions swept past Pingree-Buchanan-Kensal and Ellendale in the first two rounds, and earned their first trip to state with a dominating 25-8, 25-11, 25-15 victory over Napoleon in last Thursday’s championship match.
Coach Richter attributed her team’s inspiring run through the regional to what unfolded in the championship match of the District 6 tournament a week earlier. Kidder County and Eli Benz — the Region 3 Outstanding Senior Athlete of the Year — nearly upset the Lions in Linton for the district crown.
Linton-HMB survived, winning 3-2.
“That kind of woke them up,” Richter said. “The girls realized that in order for us to play well we have to focus on all the sets we play in a match, and they took that with them into the regional tournament.”
If the Lions (31-5) can continue with its present inspired style of play, the team could be in for a fun weekend of volleyball at the Minot State University Dome. Linton-HMB will face the Region 5 champion Flasher Bulldogs (24-4) in the opening round of the state Class B girls’ volleyball tournament today at 2 p.m.
“The girls are really focused right now,” Richter said. “Over the course of the entire season, it was always in the back of our minds to get to the state tournament.”
And why wouldn’t it have been?
The Lions have been blessed this season with an abundance of effective hitters at the net — six in all — that have combined for 995 kills and 249 blocks thus far.
Seniors Lacey Ryckman and Christa Nagel have been leading the charge. Ryckman, a 6-foot-0 middle blocker has tallied 256 kills and 58 blocks, while Nagel, a 5-7 outside hitter, has piled up 208 kills and 27 blocks.
But sophomore hitters Kayln Schneider and Robin Weber (159 kills), along with senior Alexis Jasper (103 kills, 36 blocks) have been just as explosive. Schneider has posted 207 kills and leads the team with 91 blocks.
Then there’s Linton-HMB’s sixth attacker, senior outside hitter Jessica Weiser (62 kills, 37 blocks).
“The whole season we’ve tried to frustrate (the other team’s) blockers,” Richter said. “Each match we try to figure out where their blockers are trying to block, and if they block Lacey in the middle we’ve been able to get the ball to our outside hitters.”
Stats back up Richter’s words. In the three matches played during the region tourney, Ryckman, Nagel and Schneider each averaged exactly 9.0 kills per game, with Weber averaging 7.6.
Those types of balanced numbers translate into teams struggling to find a complete answer for Linton-HMB’s offense, which really starts with crisp back row passing and the 1-2 punch of setters Katie Kalberer and Whitney Gerving.
Kalberer, a senior, has paced the team with 441 assists and 53 aces this season, while Gerving has tossed up 301 assists. Richter, the Region 3 Coach of the Year, explained Kalberer’s and Gerving’s ability to read the defense in order to set up the right attacker at the right time has been crucial this season.
“This is the first time I’ve run a 6-2, and it’s been going great. Both girls have been stepping up and getting the ball to the hitter with the hot hand,” Richter said. “They’ve been steady and calm the whole year.
“One of the key things for us this year is trying to make sure that no matter what we do, we don’t give any free balls out. Our goal is to keep our attacks from getting the other team set up on offense to get an attack on us.”
Defensively, the Lions have been led in the back row by junior libero Paula Nagel with 531 digs on the year.
“This is the most balanced team I’ve ever coached, from our front row, to our setters, to our back row.”
The Lions will need that balance today against Flasher, as they attempt to contain the Bulldogs’ Allison Schick and Kelsie Bentz. Both senior middle hitters, Schick racked up 408 kills and 37 blocks in the regular season, while Bentz produced 236 kills and 43 blocks.
“Flasher, from what I’ve been gathering, has been very consistent the whole year,” Richter said. “They focus primarily on their middle hitter (Allison) Schick and feed off of her energy.
“They’re a good team. We’ll need to be composed and play our style of volleyball.”
But Richter — who’s posted a career head-coaching record of 173-41 in six seasons — made it perfectly clear that the Lions aren’t trekking to Minot simply for a three-day vacation.
“We’re not going up there to just go, we’re hoping to win,” Richter said. “We are going to take it one game at a time, and really focus on the Flasher match.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at email@example.com