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N.D. state Class B volleyball tournament: A big 1-2 punch

PARK RIVER, N.D. -- As Park River/Fordville-Lankin was making a comeback in the fifth game of the Region 2 championship match, Lexi Erickson did the unexpected.

PARK RIVER, N.D. -- As Park River/Fordville-Lankin was making a comeback in the fifth game of the Region 2 championship match, Lexi Erickson did the unexpected.

Erickson has recorded a team-leading 348 kills this season. Almost all of them came with the senior's aggressive, hard-hitting style. But, with a berth in the North Dakota Class B state high school volleyball tournament on the line, Erickson changed her normal tactics and tipped for a point to keep the comeback going.

"I was surprised," Park River/Fordville-Lankin coach Sherry Swartz said. "There were a few times in the match when Lexi went up to crank away at the ball and, at the last second, she pulled up, tipped the ball and got a kill.

"I told her she needs to do that more often. People are looking for her to take the big swing."

Erickson and Sydney Larson are the outside hitters for the Aggies team that edged Griggs County Central 3-2 in the region final. They're not big, with Erickson standing 5 feet, 7 inches in height and Larson 5-9. But they're the big hitters on a 37-7 team that meets Hazen at 6 p.m. on Thursday in Minot in the quarterfinals of the North Dakota state Class B state tournament.

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Erickson, a senior, is a four-year starter and a three-time all-district pick. She has 927 kills for her career. Larson, a junior and a two-time all-district pick, is second on the team with 277 kills and also has a team-leading 90 service aces.

Their big point totals are coming with different styles.

"Sydney is more finesse," Swartz said. "She has a lot of options in her game. She sees the blocks and the court. She has power, but she'll tip or push the ball into the corner. She seems to see the court and has a better feel for the game.

"Lexi has power hitting from the front or the back row. She doesn't have a lot of shots. She's aggressive and goes after things. Lexi has gotten better at seeing the blocks and hitting around them. But she's power and aggressiveness out there."

That they attack with different styles is an asset. "Defenses don't know what to expect from us," Erickson said. "They don't know what we'll do."

While the outside hitters are the Aggies' top point producers, others also make significant contributions.

Middle hitter Tessa Zahradka has 165 kills and 126 blocks, Brittnee Linn has 94 kills and 86 blocks and Cass Heigaard on the right side has 119 kills and 56 blocks.

"Courtney (Rehovsky, PR/F-L's setter) mixes things up and keeps all the players involved," Swartz said. "But when we really need to put the ball down, our outsides are the ones she goes to."

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A good mix

Park River/Fordville-Lankin will be making its first state volleyball appearance since the 1997-98 season. It's a team that's come together from different directions.

Park River and Fordville-Lankin formed a co-op program four seasons ago, when Erickson was a freshman. Park River already was a perennial District 4 and Region 2 power. Erickson and versatile Shayna Ruzicka, who backs up all three hitting positions, are from Fordville-Lankin. In addition, Zahradka transferred to Fordville-Lankin from Adams-Edmore prior to last season; she didn't play volleyball last year, but joined the program this season.

"We probably wouldn't be going to state without those three," Swartz said.

A state tournament experience isn't new for Park River/Fordville-Lankin's athletes. In girls basketball, PR/F-L will enter the upcoming season as two-time defending region champion, and was state runner-up last year.

"I think that (state basketball tournament) experience definitely helped our team," Swartz said. "These girls have been in district, region and state championships. They know how to win. They've learned that they can't ride on emotion. They're enthusiastic, but it's more of a business-like, get-things-done type of group."

Said Erickson: "This co-op has been the best thing, for Fordville-Lankin and for Park River."

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com .

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Park River/Fordville-Lankin

at a glance

Record: 37-7, Region 2 champion.

State tournament opener: Park River plays Hazen at 6 p.m. Thursday in Minot in the quarterfinals of the North Dakota state Class B volleyball tournament.

Aggies coach: Sherry Swartz.

Aggies' regular lineup: Sr. S Courtney Rehovsky (568 assists, 23 service aces, 231 digs); jr. OH Sydney Larson (277 kills, 90 service aces, 327 digs); sr. OH Lexi Erickson (348 kills, 292 digs); sr. MH Tessa Zahradka (165 kills, 126 blocks); jr. MH Brittnee Linn (94 kills, 86 blocks, 179 digs); sr. RH Cass Heigaard (119 kills, 56 blocks, 41 service aces, 102 digs) or fr. def. specialist Carly Myrdal (156 digs); jr. libero Alaina Myrdal (38 service aces, 263 digs).

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