The Our Redeemer's Christian School volleyball team made District 11 opponent Bottineau work for every point.
A strong defensive performance by the Knights, along with many unforced errors by the Stars, lifted ORCS to a straight-set victory Tuesday in a rematch of last year's Region 6 championship.
Freshman libero Lauren Hendrickson led the defensive effort with 19 digs and junior outside hitter McKensie Popinga and freshman setter Morgan Olson combined for 27 more in the 25-20, 26-24, 25-14 victory. Junior middle blocker Megan Hogue had two of ORCS' five blocks.
Our Redeemer’s Christian School junior outside hitter Gabi Boeckel goes up for a spike as Bottineau’s Bailey Neubauer (4) and Stephanie Brenden (6) defend.
"I would say this is the scrappiest team Our Redeemer's has had," ORCS coach Kara Nunziato said. "They never let anything die and I really think the girls came in wanting to make sure that defense was their number one focus."
The Stars (6-4) jumped out to a 3-0 lead to start the match, but ORCS' defense helped the Knights (10-5) take a 16-11 advantage late in the set. The Stars fought back and closed within one at 21-20, but unforced errors eventually cost them the set.
"We just couldn't sustain anything," Bottineau coach Steve Dunrud said, "and we had a lot of unforced errors. Our Redeemer's, they just kept the ball alive. There were some great rallies going on. We one a couple of them, but they got the majority of them."
ORCS' defense transitioned to offense in the second set as Olson, Popinga and freshman middle blocker Makayla Gartner provided most of the team's points. The trio had eight kills in the set and Boeckel recorded three aces, the last giving the Knights a 21-15 lead.
"It was a great challenge for us," Gartner said. "Bottineau's a great team. We had to work hard for it."
Bottineau rallied behind senior middle blocker Danielle McDonald, who recorded two kills, a block and an ace for four of the Stars' last eight points to tie the set at 24. But ORCS closed the set with a Hogue kill and an Olson ace.
Although the Stars didn't win the set, the momentum they gathered carried over. Bottineau jumped out to a 7-3 lead and appeared ready to prolong the match.
But, like it had all match, ORCS' defense provided a spark.
"The turning point in our game was the one play that lasted forever where nothing died for a solid minute," Nunziato said. "Even though we didn't win (the point), it really changed the momentum and our fire."
The play occurred with the Knights trailing 9-5 in the third set. A long back-and-forth rally was eventually ended by one of Bottineau senior outside Courtney Gallagher's team-high 11 kills. From there it was all ORCS as the Knights rattled off a 20-4 run to end the match.
"It was a really great match," Boeckel said. "There were a lot of good plays. We kept our play up, which was great to see. There's some stuff we have to work on, but there were a lot of good things we saw. Our defense was really good tonight."
The Knights travel to Glenburn at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Stars play at Westhope-Newburg at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot Minotauros and the Minot State University men's club hockey team. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.