Knights thwart Lions

It was pure jubilation for the Our Redeemer’s Christian School volleyball team after freshman Morgan Olson sealed a four-set victory over crosstown rival Bishop Ryan with her match-high 21st kill.

Along with bragging rights, the Knights now sit alone atop the District 12 standings after the 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 25-21 victory Tuesday. Both teams entered the match undefeated in non-tournament contests.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with how our girls played tonight,” ORCS coach Kara Nunziato said. “They really took what they did over the weekend and brought it into this week. It was all about keeping composure and their control, and that’s hard to do when they’re such young players.”

Nunziato said last weekend’s Dickinson tournament prepared the Knights (19-5-2 overall, 4-0 district) for the challenges the Lions (16-2-1, 3-1) presented, most notably 6-foot-2 senior middle blockers Gabbie Bohl and Hannah Stewart. ORCS finished the tournament 5-1, highlighted by a two-set victory against Class A Minot High School in the silver bracket championship.

“What it came down to was we saw a lot of tall teams in Dickinson, so it wasn’t like it was a surprise,” Nunziato said. “That mentally prepared us because it is tough when you have such tall, strong middle players. But the girls did well.”

The Knights jumped out to a quick lead in the opening set that stretched as high as 10 points at 20-10. Olson and junior outside hitter McKenzie Popinga combined for eight kills in the game, with the freshman recording the final three.

“It feels awesome,” Popinga said. “Ryan’s a great team and we knew that coming in. We’ve been preparing all season long and it feels great.”

ORCS led throughout the second set, but Ryan kept the game close as Bohl made it difficult at the net for the Knights. Bohl finished with a match-high seven blocks.

“We played as hard as we could,” Bohl said. “Our Redeemer’s is a really good team and we knew that coming in. We prepared for what they gave us and we didn’t adjust to the simple things. I know we’re going to see them again so it’s going to be in the back of our heads.”

The Lions pulled to within 17-15 in the second set, but ORCS freshman middle hitter Makayla Gartner’s block on Stewart on the ensuing rally swung the momentum in the Knights’ favor. Gartner blocked Stewart again to close out the second.

Ryan didn’t fold and forced a fourth set after limiting its mistakes and setting up Bohl at the net. The junior middle hitter was responsible for four kills, three blocks and an ace during the third game. Bohl finished with a team-high 15 kills.

Trailing 22-14 in the third, the Knights rallied to within three, but Bohl recorded a kill and an ace for two of the final three points to close out the set.

“We told the girls, ‘Ryan has hitters. They are going to put the ball away. They are not going to let down and give it to you,’ ” Nunziato said.

The Knights regrouped and built a 6-1 lead early in the fourth with Olson leading the charge. Olson kept Ryan off-balance with a mix of spike attempts and push shots. But the Lions clawed back and tied it at 16 before taking their first lead of the set. Trailing 19-16, the Knights tallied nine of the final 11 points to close the match.

“I thought we played really hard as a team,” Olson said. “We knew we needed to come out strong right away and I thought we did that really well.”

Both teams play in the Laker Invitational in Burlington on Friday.

Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot Minotauros and the Minot State University men’s club hockey team. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.