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Hard hitting Heart River defeats Richardton-Taylor

Heart River senior Emily Hlebechuk goes up for an attack against Richardton-Taylor on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Belfield High School. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)1 / 3
Richardton-Taylor junior Katya Baranko attempts to block a Heart River hit on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Belfield High School. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)2 / 3
Cougars junior outside hitter Laken Jacobson earns one of her six digs in Region 7 play against the Raiders on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Belfield High School. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)3 / 3

BELFIELD — After dropping the first set 25-17 to Richardton-Taylor, the Heart River volleyball team gained traction, taking the next three sets for the 3-1 win on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Belfield High School.

The final point, along with the 25-14 fourth-set win, was sealed with an explosive dig from Cougars junior Afton Shypkoski, which caught the Raiders off guard as it sailed over the net and hit the floor.

"I was just really proud of how they came back in that second game," Heart River head coach Tessa Sian said. "That really stuck out to me. I was able to see how they played and can handle a loss. We hadn't seen that before so I was able to see how they bounce back and mentally be checked in to what we're doing at that moment."

In the final moments of the night, the Raiders showed their grit. After Heart River got up 20-9, Richardton-Taylor tallied five straight points to close within six and draw a Cougars timeout.

After the short meeting, Heart River answered with five of their own for the win.

"Our coach brought us together and told us, 'Just do the little things right, then you'll get your motivation up and get points'" senior Emily Hlebechuk said.

The Cougars toughest victory came in the second set. In the first two thirds of the frame, there were seven ties. After pulling slightly ahead, 20-19, Heart River never relinquished the lead again, going on to win 25-23.

"We talked more and communicated better," Hlebechuk said. "I think we got our motivation up. We were kind of bummed out after missing the first few points, but after that we got it back together."

Cougars junior outside hitter Laken Jacobson and senior Natasha Baranko led the way with six kills, while Shypkoski and senior Katie Keator followed with five a piece.

On the other side of the net, junior Katya Baranko stood out above the rest. At 5-foot-10, the middle blocker literally stands over the rest of the roster, but she also led the Raiders with seven kills, six blocks and three aces.

After holding a narrow 15-14 lead in a competitive first set, the Raiders broke away with a 10-3 run to seal the win.

"They came out strong. They were excited. That's it," Richardton-Taylor head coach Emily Gran said. "They got on a roll and they kept going."

Aided by 31 digs from junior middle blocker Ieesha Jordan, the Raiders (1-1, 1-1 Region 7) stayed in the second set, but in the third, they faltered.

Heart River (2-0, 2-0 Region 7) won set three 25-11, capitalizing on the Raiders mistakes.

"They just got in their own heads. It's mental game and after a couple mistakes, they just got down on themselves," Gran said. "They got the physical talent to do it, it's just making those little changes, knowing that nobody is going to hand them a win and they need to keep fighting for it."

Still, the Cougars found their feet and were swinging away. Led by Shypkoski's three aces, Heart River scored eight points on serves.

Senior McKenzie Buckman guided the Heart River offense as setter, leading both teams with 24 assists.

"We just got into a rhythm. We were able to get the nerves out; there were a lot of people here tonight," Sian said. "We started passing. We passed very well tonight. We were able to get our connections with the hitters going into the last three sets."

Heart River 3, Richardton-Taylor 1

RT 25 23 11 14 — 1

HR 17 25 25 25 — 3

Kills: RT, Katya Baranko 7, Elle Goetz 4, Jodi Leingang 3, Reine Voigt 3. HR, Laken Jacobson 6, Natasha Baranko 6, Afton Shypkoski 5, Katie Keator 5, Emily Hlebechuk 3.

Blocks: RT, K. Baranko 6. HR, Keator 2.

Aces: RT, K. Baranko 3, Leingang 3, Ieesha Jordan 2. HR, Afton Shypkoski 3, McKenzie Buckman 2, Jacobson 1, Keator 1, N. Baranko 1.

Digs: RT, Jordan 31, Leingang 21, K. Baranko 20. HR, Campbell Clarys 19, Shypkoski 12, Jacobson 6.

Assists: RT, Jalynn Olson 16, Bailey Paulson 4. HR, Buckman 24.

Records: RT, 1-1 Region 7. HR, 2-0 Region 7.