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Heart River and Hettinger-Scranton push towards regional elite status

Winner of four of its last five matches, the Heart River girls volleyball team has been carried in large part by its defense according to head coach Tessa Sian.

Hettinger-Scranton sophomore middle hitter Samantha Oase follows through on a shot during practice on Monday, Sept. 18 from Scranton High School. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)
Hettinger-Scranton sophomore middle hitter Samantha Oase follows through on a shot during practice on Monday, Sept. 18 from Scranton High School. (Patrick Bernadeau/The Dickinson Press)

Winner of four of its last five matches, the Heart River girls volleyball team has been carried in large part by its defense according to head coach Tessa Sian.

Highlighted by a trio who has topped the Cougars' statsheet in digs four times during that stretch, sophomore libero Campbell Clarys, along with junior outside hitters Laken Jacobson and Afton Shypkoski have aided a defensive unit that has gotten better in its floor coverage with each passing match.

"I think an element that comes strongest from them would be our defensive movements, just being able to be scrappy and play long rallies," Sian said. "At the beginning of the season, we weren't necessary coming out on top and winning those rallies, but now we've been transitioning and working on simply things like second ball placement, what to do with it and where to go with it. That's really been helping us as far as being able to get the ball over the net aggressively."

Once the stop is made and the team transitions into its offense, the ball often finds itself on the fingertips of McKenzie Buckman. The senior setter says the team's rallying spirit is connected to the players' ability to uplift one another.

"With this team, we've really been able to keep our positivity up this year," Buckman said. "We push our hardest to keep each other up and to fight through (a match) as a team, and not as individuals.

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"I think when its close, it brings our true colors out even more. ... During those times when we mess up, we have to count on our teammates to keep us up and keep pushing to a victory."

Heart River has seen its toughest challenges during the season-opening Killdeer Tournament and the Volley in the Valley Tournament, which account for more than two-thirds of the matches played so far this season.. Going 8-4 in those two competitions, the team has gained critical experience in closely-contested battles.
"The kids have been doing great this year, and they've been able to get some good experience under their belt the first half of this season that I think will really come in handy for the second half," Sian said. "Some of these girls haven't been in such pressure situations before, which is great because the tournaments that we've been in and the games that we've been in have really been teaching them a lot; they've been learning and reacting to well to all the situations that they've been in."

One of the teams that the Cougars may run into during the regional tournament is Hettinger-Scranton. The two teams have faced off twice this season, with the Night Hawks leaving victorious on both occasions.

Winner of seven of its last nine matches, including a 3-1 victory over Heart River on Sept. 13, Hettinger-Scranton joins Dickinson Trinity as the only undefeated teams in Region 7 play.

"I like how we're looking so far," Night Hawks head coach Ria Eaton said. "This group has been a little bit different this year in the fact that they're pretty cohesive. They work well together, talk well together, hang outside off the court, do open gyms on their own; they're hard-working. A lot of it is that if you have the communication and the gel, sometimes that does more than skills do once in a while."

Eaton adds that her players are more open-minded to suggestions and search for solutions to an issue rather than allow a problem to linger.

"With six girls on a court, unless everyone can talk and work together, we'll have a lot of dysfunction," Eaton said. "I feel like with this team this year, honestly I don't think I've seen that at all, which has been superb because it makes them a lot easier to coach."

Seniors hitters Briana Sanford and Alyssa Andress, along with senior setter Abbie Kludt, serve as the team captains, expanding their contributions to the team.

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"I think this year, I've taken on more of a leadership role," Sanford said. "I try to relate more to the younger players because we're trying to build a strong program. I think the group of seniors that we have and all the younger players that we have, us three captains have really tried to make everyone work together well."

Some of the youthful contributors include sophomore middle hitter Sam Oase, junior hitter Quinn Mellmer and junior libero Carolyn Schultz. According to Andress, the mixture of youth and upperclassman help create a versatile squad.

"We have very diverse players," said Andress, the team's leader in kills. "They can pass, everybody can hit from all places and has very good fundamentals. Everyone can pass, set and hit from all spots on the court."

Hettinger-Scranton will play five of its next six matches on the road, including a date with the defending regional tournament champion Titans on Tuesday, Oct. 9. However, Eaton is focused on her team living in the moment.

"I do look forward a little bit, but I think we should always concentrate on what's ahead of us as far as game-by-game because that's what seeds us." Eaton said. "We keep an eye out and keep working on things. ... But I always tell the girls not to get ahead of themselves. It's a long season and by the regional tournament, anything can change. So what we need to do now and the games coming up is what's going to make us better and let us see what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are and what we need to change to be better in the long run."

Heart River senior middle hitter Natasha Baranko connects with an attack against Richardton-Taylor on Thursday, Sept. 6 from Belfield High School. (Shelby Reardon/The Dickinson Press)
Heart River senior middle hitter Natasha Baranko connects with an attack against Richardton-Taylor on Thursday, Sept. 6 from Belfield High School. (Shelby Reardon/The Dickinson Press)

Related Topics: HEART RIVER COUGARS
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