HUNTER, N.D. — Northern Cass senior setter Sarah Yoney has an embarrassment of riches. On any given rally, she can send the ball any direction and find a teammate capable of sending home a kill.
The Jaguars multi-pronged attack features three hitters with more than 170 kills this season — Morgan Nelson, Emma Lucas, and Halle Crockett. They have more hitters who can come in to provide scoring at any time. They’ll likely need major contributions from each of them in the North Dakota Class B State Volleyball tournament which opens Thursday in the Fargodome.
That ability to plug any player in and have them produce kills can be attributed in part to the play of Yoney. Northern Cass coach Angie Johnson lauded her decision making and leadership and her ability to set her teammates up with perfect passes. She makes sure her teammates are in the best position to score.
“Sarah is the leader out there,” Johnson said. “Just being able to set up each individual person and being able to get to some of the balls that she can is crazy. She was great (in the Region 1 championship against Kindred). I haven’t seen her get to some of those balls all season. It’s great to see it kick in now.”
Yoney has 560 assists this season and leads the team with 33 service aces. Nelson, a 5-foot-10 senior middle hitter, leads the Jaguars with 198 kills and has a team-high 50 blocks. Lucas, a 5-10 junior outside hitter, has 174 kills. Crockett, a 5-9 sophomore outside hitter, has 172 kills.
They can also rely on 5-7 senior middle hitter Jenna Maker and 5-10 senior right side hitter Karissa Hammer to provide some extra hitting.
“We have a lot of great people on our team,” Yoney said. “Our team is very deep and there are a lot of players that can come off the bench too. I’m thankful that we have a lot of hitters that I can go to all the time.”
Senior libero Abby Rasmussen is a defensive leader for the Jaguars. She leads the team with 147 digs and has 19 aces. Lucas has 136 digs and junior setter and defensive specialist Abby Richman has 130 digs and 31 aces.
“Our defense was pretty solid back there,” Johnson said. “We work a lot on that and making sure we put ourselves in good positions. Abby Rasmussen solidifies the back row and she keeps everything together when they get in that huddle.”
Johnson says the Jaguars are playing some of their best volleyball at just the right time. They enter this week’s state tournament coming off of convincing wins over some of the toughest competition they’ve faced all year. They defeated Kindred 3-1 in the Region 1 championship after needing five sets to beat the Vikings in the regular season.
Fifth-seeded Northern Cass (18-1) opens the state tournament against No. 4 Dickinson Trinity (22-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“The fact that these girls have come out and done what we were talking about all season is incredible,” Johnson said. “We knew we were capable of (going to state), but to go out and see it happen in action is just unbelievable.”
The Jaguars are 18-1 and went 13-0 against Region 1 foes including region tournament games. Their lone loss was a 3-0 sweep against Thompson back in late September. The Tommies are the No. 2 seed in the state tournament and their only loss came against No. 3 Langdon-Edmore-Munich.
Johnson said her team hadn’t played a team as good as Thompson at that point early in the season and they just weren’t ready for that level of play. But she thinks her team has improved since then. Stiff competition at the end of the regular season and through the region tournament have them on top of their game.
“They worked really hard to go undefeated in the region,” the coach said. “It’s really nice to come out of your toughest matches and come away with a win and have that confidence.”
The state volleyball tournament will be the last high school sporting event in North Dakota until after Dec 14. On Friday, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum issued new guidelines that do not allow youth sports or activities until after that date.
Yoney says she and her teammates have been prepared for anything all season. They knew that COVID could impact their season at any time and they're happy for the opportunity to finish the season.
“We’ve been talking about this all year,” Yoney said. “We’ve been taking the whole season one day at a time because we’ve been nervous about COVID. But we’ve been careful with our masks and we’ve been safe.”