MOUNTAIN IRON – The Northeast Range volleyball team is beginning to see the benefits of team chemistry seven games into their 2020 season.
Led by junior Hannah Reichensperger, the Nighthawks swept hosting Mountain Iron-Buhl Monday night, 3-0 (25-12, 25-13, 25-17). The team finally at full strength in a season that’s constantly changing due to COVID-19, this win and their five-set loss to Chisholm last week has shown head coach Jodi Rogers-Reichensperger what her team can do when the obstacles are out of the way.
“I would say that the chemistry was there tonight,” Rogers-Reichensperger said. “I would say we haven’t had a lot of that this year until last Thursday against Chisholm and the girls are finally pulling it together. It’s been tricky with kids coming in and out this year so finally having everyone now is really helpful.”
The Nighthawks went to the junior Reichensperger early and often Monday night as the standout middle hitter gave the Rangers more than they could handle. Northeast Range sprinted ahead to start the contest by scoring the first five points, three of which came from the arm of Reichensperger slamming a kill down the middle.
MI-B rebounded quickly with five points of their own, amongst them an ace from Sage Ganyo, a tip point from Jordan Zubich and a kill from Hali Savela. Reichensperger wasn’t nearly finished, however, as the Nighthawks continued to funnel the offense through her strong arm up front. Two more kills and a block from her put her squad up 8-6.
The lead began to balloon as Reichensperger showed her defensive strength as well, putting down a pair of back-to-back blocks to put the Nighthawks up 14-10. Reichensperger added another kill but a kill from MI-B’s Gabby Lira and a point on a Nighthawks error made it 15-12 Northeast Range.
The Nighthawk errors were stopped dead in their tracks from there as they rattled off 10 straight points to end the set, 25-12, in a stretch that saw two more Reichensperger kills and four ace serves from junior Audrey Anderson.
Northeast Range began the second frame with an ace from Natalie Nelmark that started another five-point run to open a set. Reichensperger added two more kills and a tip point during the run.
Mountain Iron-Buhl couldn’t respond as effectively as they did last time. A Nighthawks error gave the Rangers their first point of the set, but the Northeast Range star in Reichensperger continued to put down kills to keep MI-B at bay.
The Rangers added points thanks to Ganyo and Zubich, but it wasn’t long before the Nighthawks commanded a 12-3 lead, forcing a Mountain Iron-Buhl timeout.
Northeast Range continued to find success in their serving and in their hitting as they cruised to a second set win, 25-13.
The third set followed a similar script as the first two, with the Rangers unable to find an answer for the arm of Reichensperger. Dominating at the net for most of the contest, Reichensperger opted for more shots from the back row as the match went on, something that she’s been working on for some time according to her coach.
“That was her goal this year, to improve her backrow hitting. She wants to play at the college level and she knows if she can be a six-rotation player that she’ll only be helping herself. A lot of middles spend their time running up at the net, but she’s confident staying back and being one of our strongest defensive players as well.”
The Nighthawks easily broke open a 12-3 lead in the third set before the Rangers began to mount a comeback. A string of Northeast Range errors opened the door for MI-B as the third set quickly became close at 13-8.
A kill from Ganyo and a block from Zubich kept the Rangers’ hopes alive late in the set. Trailing 24-13, the Rangers stuck around for a while as Northeast Range failed to put the game away quickly.
After scraping together four more points, the Rangers fell to one last Reichensperger kill to make it 25-17, closing out the 3-0 sweep.
Reichensperger finished with 24 kills to lead her squad and she also added team-highs in digs with 14 and blocks and ace serves with five each. Natalie Nelmark added seven kills and six digs and setter Maizy Sundblad finished with 31 set assists.
The Rangers were paced by Zubich with four kills and a block. Ganyo and Zoe Bialzcak finished with seven digs apiece.
Mountain Iron-Buhl head coach Megan Preiner said Monday’s game was a perfect example to show the disparity between a team playing their seventh game and the other playing only it’s second.
“Our girls are still going to come out nervous in the second game,” Preiner said. “Especially seeing a really strong middle hitter like that so early on. That’s just something we haven’t seen yet and you can’t really know what it’s going to be like until you actually play against it.”
With teams being in such different spots due to COVID-19, Rogers-Reichensperger commended the Rangers for their play in just their second game.
“They played a really good game,” Rogers-Reichensperger said. “And it’s tough to compare when we’re at such different places in our seasons. They’re just starting and we’re a little bit further along. COVID has really thrown a lot of teams for a loop this year.”
Looking ahead, Preiner hopes her team comes out with a little more confidence, especially after showing more of a fight later in the third set.
“They need to start with that confidence that they found late in the game. They were doing things right in that stretch, but at that point it’s too little, too late.”
For Rogers-Reichensperger, keeping things positive for her squad now that they’re starting to jell will be key.
“It started off so rough for us that we really needed to pull it back together beginning with that match with Chisholm. Yeah, it was a five-set loss, but It was a confidence booster. We went five sets with a really good team. Some of our girls have a lot of experience and some of them are a bit newer but we’re figuring out how to keep it all together and the girls are starting to have a lot of fun.”
Northeast Range 2
At Babbitt, Northeast Range and Chisholm went toe to toe Thursday with the Bluestreaks eventually coming out on top, 3-2 (25-21, 23-25, 25-17, 20-25, 15-11).
Abby Thompson led the way for Chisholm with 25 kills, six blocks and 20 digs, while Jordan Temple engineered the offense with 39 set assists, 19 digs and four kills. Lola Huhta added 17 digs and 11 kills and Kaija Gams chipped in with 13 digs and three kills.
The Nighthawks were paced by Maizy Sundblad with 36 set assists, Hannah Reichensperger with 31 kills, 25 digs and five blocks and Jenna Smith with 25 digs. Audrey Anderson also chipped on with 17 digs.
Northeast Range plays at Mountain Iron-Buhl Monday, while Chisholm plays at Mesabi East Tuesday.
At Ely, visiting McGregor dominated the line of scrimmage and cruised past the Timberwolves Friday night, 46-6.
Ely’s lone score came in the first quarter when Lane Anderson reached the end zone on a 1-yard run. McGregor went on to lead 30-6 at the half.
The Wolves were led by Harry Simons who completed seven of 11 passes for 91 yards. Jason Kerntz also had 35 yards rushing.
Ely (2-2) closes out the regular season Thursday at Lake of the Woods at 6 p.m.