By Coach Tina Turn
The year 2020 has been unusual and student athletes have been waiting since March of this year for the opportunity to get back on a court and play a sport they love with their teammates. That wait finally ended for the Bearcats volleyball team on Thursday, Oct. 8 when they traveled to East Grand Forks to take on the Sacred Heart Eagles.
This year’s varsity will largely consist of a core group of juniors and seniors who are all such well-rounded athletes that they are six-rotation players. The seniors are Courtney Fredrickson, McKenna Peterson and Gracie Whitlock. The three juniors are Jenna Davis, Cheyanne Scalese and Kira Whitlock. Rounding out the squad are seven JV reserves: Juniors Emma Sjostrand and Elsa Steen; sophomores Aidra Johnson, Annika Johnson, Ella Olson; and 8th graders Berlyn Strege and Morgan Turn. Junior Megan Larson is currently out with a shoulder injury.
The Bearcats thought they would be playing in front of empty stands on Thursday night, but earlier that day, guidance was changed and each participant could invite two family members to attend. This helped to make the environment feel a bit more like normal, and the girls gave the fans something to cheer for when they started out their season with an exciting 3-1 win.
In set one, both teams took a few points to work through the first-game nerves and find a groove. The Bearcats intensified their focus a little more in set one as they went on to win 25-15. Senior McKenna Peterson worked the Eagles’ defense hard and ended the set with a solid 6 kills to prove she could be a weapon from the outside. Junior players Cheyanne Scalese and Kira Whitlock joined for the only double block of the night in set one and three players combined for 5 aces in the set to start strong at the line this season.
Set two was a close battle that ended in a come-from-behind win for the Bearcats 26-24. Down 22-23, the Bearcats took a timeout, but it didn’t stop the Eagles from earning one more point to sit ahead 22-24. So a second and final timeout was needed and that timeout proved to be clutch as it was just enough to stave off the Eagle momentum and turn it toward the Cats, who behind the tough serving of K. Whitlock, kept the Eagles out of system and allowed for the Bearcats to surge ahead to victory. The set ended on an ace by K. Whitlock.
The Bearcats lost their legs a bit in set three. It’s hard to come into a season conditioned well when you haven’t been able to play for months and months. The fatigue affected blocking on defense and players weren’t getting adequate height on their hitting approaches, which made our offense easier for the Eagles to defend. Because of the slight edge the Eagles had on pushing some right-side attacks through our block, the Bearcats fell just shy of the win 22-25.
Heading into a fourth set, the Bearcats decided to push through the fatigue and ramped up the offense. Several players stepped up as offensive threats in the set. Peterson recorded 6 kills, followed by Scalese with 3, and Jenna Davis and Gracie Whitlock each added 2 to make the Cats’ offense varied and hard to defend. Tough serving also kept the Eagles from playing in system, and it’s possible fatigue set in for them as well as the Bearcats hopped along to a 25-16 victory, ending the match on a Courtney Fredrickson ace.
I am so happy for the girls that they got their first taste of normalcy when it comes to sports. Practice has been going well, and we were excited to have the extra flex-season practice sessions, but players only want to practice so long before they want to put the jersey on and meet the competition. In reflecting on the game, the coaches feel it was an overwhelmingly solid first match and there were many more positives than negatives. We haven’t been able to spend much time on blocking yet in practice, so that will be on the docket for focus in our next practices. Overall, the girls should be very proud of their first effort, and we’re looking to an exciting season of volleyball.