Bottineau’s star

Bottineau’s Steve Dunrud has spent 20 years as a head volleyball coach – two with the Stars and 18 with Rolla. He’s seen plenty of talented setters come and go.

Bailey Neubauer is one of the best. And at 5-foot-10, she’s certainly the tallest.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some really good setters, and she ranks right up there with the best that I’ve worked with,” Dunrud said. “She’s worked really hard at becoming the player she is.”

Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, Neubauer, a senior, has Bottineau firing on all cylinders, with the top seed in the District 11 tournament already wrapped up.

The Stars (22-6 overall, 8-0 district) have won seven straight matches and 16 of their last 18 including best-of-three tournament matches.

Neubauer boasts a 7.9 assists per set average, and has tallied 30-plus helpers in two matches this year. But what makes her so versatile is not how many assists she gets, but how she gets them.

“We’ve kind of expanded on our quick sets and we just try to catch the other team off guard with their blocks so we can get it past them easier,” said Neubauer, a second-year starter.

Dunrud said he’s seen marked improvement in his setter’s ability since the end of her junior season, noting the instruction she received during camps at University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.

In the offseason, Neubauer added shoot sets – a quicker set to outside hitters – into her repertoire and enhanced her ability to quick- and slide-set. Now Bottineau has defenses guessing not only who’s going to hit the ball, but where they’re going to hit it from.

“We do have some good hitters this year,” Dunrud said. “We’re fortunate that we can put the two together.

“Without her, we wouldn’t be doing some of the things that we’ve done, with how we’ve expanded our game. Definitely (she) has propelled us further. I don’t know what we would’ve been doing without her.”

At the high-school level, Neubauer’s height is rare. Her reach helps eliminate many of Bottineau’s overpasses, among other benefits.

“Bailey’s our tallest starter and she’s our setter,” Dunrud said. “That’s another advantage. She can help us block, whereas most of the time your setters aren’t able to help you out in that part of the game.”

Her 22 blocks and 42 kills are proof of her front-row capabilities. She digs at a 1.9-per-set clip, and she’s also added a jump serve this year, which has generated 51 aces at an 87-percent service rate.

Neubauer’s rapid development has yet to heed much attention from college coaches, though she expects to extend her volleyball career past this season. She wouldn’t mind competing in her home state, either.

“North Dakota is best because I’d be close to my family and my friends,” Neubauer said, “but I guess wherever volleyball takes me I guess I’ll go.”

For now, she’s focused on the season at hand.

She hopes the Stars’ expanded offense equates to postseason success.

Bottineau has fallen in the Region 6 title match for three straight years, and in four of the past five.

As usual, the region is full of capable teams. Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, Our Redeemer’s Christian School and Bishop Ryan pose tough challenges from District 12.

“We’re going to have a chance at least,” Dunrud said, “and that’s all you can really ask for at this point.”

Added Neubauer: “Of course our ultimate goal is to get to state and win that region championship, because we’ve got second like (three) years in a row now. I think it’s our time to move beyond that.”

Ryan Holmgren cover high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.