HUNTER, N.D. — The key to her team playing its best volleyball, according to Northern Cass head coach Angie Johnson, is for them to relax and just be their normal, goofy selves.
The Jaguars were plenty goofy as they cruised to a 25-16, 25-12, 25-16 sweep of Richland in the North Dakota Class B, Region 1 volleyball semifinals on Thursday at Northern Cass School.
The Jaguars (17-1) will host Kindred in the Region 1 championship at 1 p.m. Saturday. Northern Cass was ranked No. 7 in the most recent North Dakota Class B Associated Press poll. Kindred was the only team to take the Jaguars to five sets all season.
“We had a little rough match on Tuesday (against Enderlin) and we were talking about turning it around. We just weren’t our little giddy, goofy selves in that match,” Johnson said. “We talked about that yesterday and wanted to bring that to the court today. They definitely turned that around and kind of almost forced themselves to start being goofy. And it paid off.”
Northern Cass setter Sarah Yoney was in total control of the match as she distributed the ball to the Jaguars’ cadre of hitters. She grabbed control early, tallying an ace to score the second point of the first set. She finished that first set with nine assists.
“As a setter, you have to be vocal and you have to be that controlling person out on the court,” Johnson said. “(Yoney) really knows the game well and she reads the blockers. She’s able to set up all of our hitters and put them in positions to get kills. A lot of girls look to her for guidance out there.”
The Jaguars attacked from left, right and center as right side hitter Emma Lucas led the way with 10 kills, and both middle hitter Morgan Nelson and outside hitter Halle Crockett had eight kills each. Crockett, Lucas and Nelson each recorded four kills as they ran away with the first set.
“I’m very lucky to have the group of hitters that I have,” Johnson said. “They all do a really good job, they’re all on the taller side which helps. And they all work really hard and Sarah puts them in great position. I have plenty of people on the bench, too, that I would feel confident to put in. For me to be a coach and have difficulty figuring out who to put in is an awesome position to be in.”
The Jaguars and Colts traded points from 5-4 up to 8-7 until Richland tied it up at 8-8. NC answered with a 7-1 run to take a 15-9 lead. Jenna Maker, Lucas and Karissa Hammer had kills in the run and Abby Rasmussen had an ace.
The Colts scored one point to make it 15-10 and then the Jaguars went on a 8-0 run that featured two blocks by Lucas and one by Nelson. Megan Roob ended the run with a kill to make it 23-11. Lucas smashed home a kill to make it 24-11, Megan Lingen had a kill for the Colts to make it 24-12, and Richland hit it out of bounds to close out the set.
“They were just like ‘Enough of this, we’ve got to go, we’ve got to kick it down,’” Johnson said. “They do a good job, if they’re not focused, of talking to each other and getting that out of each other.”
The Colts jumped out to an early 4-2 lead in the third set, but the Jaguars had the answer. NC went on a 10-1 run from there and jumped out to a 12-5 lead with two kills by Nelson, a block by Yoney, and a kill by Lucas with an assist from Yoney.
Richland refused to die late in the third set with its back against the wall and season on the brink. Facing a 22-8 deficit, the Colts went on a 7-0 run with kills by Megan Taszarek and Samantha Hendrickson to get back in the set. The Jaguars held on, however, taking three of the next four points to finish it out.
The Jaguars have dominated Region 1 this season, going undefeated in the regular season against region foes. Their lone loss came early in the season against Thompson, which is ranked No. 2 in the most recent AP poll. NC only dropped eight sets all season to fuel a 17-1 overall record. The Jaguars have yet to drop a set so far in the playoffs after sweeping Enderlin 3-0 in their first match and sweeping Richland.
“We had that one loss early in the season to Thompson. We hadn’t faced tough competition like them yet when we played them, so that kind of shocked us a little bit and woke us up,” Johnson said. “They realized we have so much more potential to pull out of ourselves. They just come in the gym and work hard every single day. We’ve had three of our toughest matches here at the end of the season. And to come away with wins gave us some confidence going into regions.”