East Region volleyball: Riders start strong

The Grand Forks Red River volleyball team entered this weekend's East Region volleyball tournament on a roll, winning six of their last seven matches.

Emily Asche
Red River's Emily Asche spikes the ball against Devils Lake in the second game of Red River's 3-0 win Thursday in the North Dakota East Region volleyball tournament in Grand Forks. Herald photo by John Stennes.

The Grand Forks Red River volleyball team entered this weekend's East Region volleyball tournament on a roll, winning six of their last seven matches.

"Since the Fargo tournament, we've been on a good run," Red River coach Carolyn Olson said. "We're coming in with some confidence and that always helps at tournament time."

It showed.

Behind Emily Asche's match-high 13 kills, No. 1 seed Roughriders cruised to a 25-11, 25-16, 25-20 sweep of No. 8 Devils Lake on Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals at the Red River gymnasium.

Red River, which improved to 22-7, plays Fargo North in the region semifinals at 4 p.m. today.


"I thought we did a nice job coming out with energy," Olson said. "We also were aggressive on our serve."

In Game 1, the Riders jumped out to a 3-0 lead and were never threatened. Red River senior setter Mandy Christian set up senior hitter Katie Ronkowski for a kill that gave the Riders the 25-11 victory.

The Firebirds, who dropped to 11-17, hung around midway through the second game, pulling to within 14-13. But Red River finished on a 12-2 run, culminating in Asche's kill for the 25-16 win.

Devils Lake jumped out to a 5-1 lead in Game 3. But Red River quickly closed the gap, eventually taking the 9-8 lead on a service ace by Heidi Asche. Late in the game, Devils Lake would come as close as 22-20 before Red River rattled off three straight points, ending the match when Shelby Bommersbach set up Kaitlin Anderson for the kill.

Emily Asche led a balanced offense that also featured nine kills apiece from Kaitlyn Bollingberg and Hadley Steffen.

Christian doled out 34 assists.

"Mandy made good decisions, finding our hot hitters," Olson said. "She's doing a great job running our offense."

Devils Lake was paced by Taylor Wade's seven kills. Stephanie Mertens chipped in six kills for the Firebirds, who play West Fargo at 4 p.m. today in Red River's old gymnasium.


Fargo North 3, West Fargo 1: During the regular season, Fargo North was swept in two matches against West Fargo, including a three-game handling in late September.

You never would have guessed that watching the Spartans in the opening round of the East Region tournament. The Spartans avenged those losses behind a balanced offense in a 25-20, 25-23, 19-25, 25-12 victory over the Packers.

Fargo North, the No. 4 seed, faces top-seeded Grand Forks Red River in the semifinals at 4 p.m. today. West Fargo, a No. 5 seed, plays No. 8 Devils Lake at 4 p.m. in Red River's old gym.

"Defensively, we really stepped it up," North coach Missy Wilson said. "When we play good defense, that puts us into our offensive system. When we're in our system, it makes it a lot easier to get points."

Six-foot-3 sophomore Kira Larson, junior Keli Johnson and senior Maren McGurran each recorded five blocks to lead the defense.

North, which improved to 24-10, was paced by a balanced offensive attack that featured four players with more than nine kills.

Johnson led the way with 13 kills, while Larson and McGurran had 11 and Mia Lopez had nine.

"Maren and Mia stepped up their game and had more kills than they usually average," Wilson said. "That allowed us to be more balanced than we usually are. Maren and Mia really put the ball down."


West Fargo was paced by Katelyn Holland's 11 kills.

The key for the Spartans was in hanging on for a victory in the second game. North took a 24-17 lead when Johnson recorded a block. But the Packers charged back to within 24-23 when the Spartans were called for a substitution error.

The Spartans, though, put away the Packers for the 25-23 win on a kill from sophomore Destinee Thorstensen.

In Game 3, West Fargo jumped out to a 10-5 lead and never relented, dropping the Spartans 25-19.

But Game 4 was all Spartans. After trading points to 9-9, North went on a 9-0 run to seal the victory. The run was highlighted by a pair of kills from Thorstensen.

Although the Spartans take the lower seed into the semifinals, North defeated Red River in five games to close the regular season.

"Red River's a great team, and we have some similar characteristics with them," Wilson said. "We both have some taller kids that can hit. It should be a great battle."

Fargo Shanley 3, Wahpeton 0: Fargo Shanley coach Wendy Zeiher felt Wahpeton's performance Thursday was much improved from the teams' meeting last week during the regular season.


That still wasn't nearly enough to challenge the Deacons.

Shanley coasted to a 25-15, 25-13, 25-20 win over Wahpeton in the third quarterfinal match.

No. 2-seeded Shanley, which improved to 22-6, plays Fargo South at 6 p.m. today in the semifinals. No. 7 Wahpeton takes on the Eagles at 6 p.m. in the Red River old gym.

"Wahpeton played a lot better than last Thursday," Zeiher said. "They were right there with us in Game 3 and gave us a run for our money."

But the Deacons were too much at the net, where 6-foot middle hitter Hillary Rotunda and 5-foot-10 outside hitter Rachel Weir were dominant.

Rotunda finished with 19 kills, while Weir had 10.

Zeiher was also pleased with the play of setter Ashley Vetter, who had 37 assists.

"She did a nice job with a couple of solo blocks and put the ball right where our hitters needed it," Zeiher said.


Katelyn Kleven's six kills led Wahpeton.

Fargo South 3, Fargo Davies 0: Fargo South had no problem making sure all the top seeds were quarterfinal winners.

Claire Bramel and Michelle Westby each had nine kills as the Bruins defeated Fargo Davies 25-19, 25-21, 25-19 in the final match of the opening round.

"That was the way we wanted to start," South coach Sarah Lacher said. "It was good to get a tough win. You don't want to have to battle back."

South, the No. 3 seed, plays No. 2 Fargo Shanley at 6 p.m. today. No. 6 Davies takes on No. 7 Wahpeton in a loser-out game at 6 p.m. in the Red River old gym.

Bridget Kruger, Raquel Wellentin and Meghan Roehrich each added six kills for the Bruins, who improved to 24-6.

Shanley and South split during the regular season.

"We're excited for it," Lacher said. "The key is going to be staying up even when you're behind and not letting Shanley keep all the momentum."


Davies was led by Brook Hildre and Paige Weston, who each finished with five kills.

The Eagles' closest game was the second, where Davies was tied as late as 18-18. But eventually South's Addy Duval dropped in a kill from her setter position for a 25-21 victory.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019 and 2022.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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