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Warner opens season with sweep over Christian

Warner’s Lauren Marcuson, center, reaches to hit the ball as Aberdeen Christian’s Sophia Eichler, left and Sophia Fogarty, right, defend the net during Thursday night’s match at the Aberdeen Christian School gym. Photo by John Davis taken 8/24/2023

They were missing their leader, but the Warner Monarchs didn’t miss a beat Thursday night.

The two-time defending State B champs came out aggressively and claimed a 25-7, 25-7, 25-17 Lake Region Conference volleyball win over Aberdeen Christian at the Christian School Gym.

With senior all-state setter Ava Nilsson sidelined with an ankle injury, others stepped up to the challenge and the Monarchs were in control from the opening serve.

“We’ve been practicing well, so I’ve been really happy with our group, and Ava’s been on the sideline at practice cheering them on and tonight cheering them on,” said Warner coach Kari Jung. “I think that really helps. She’s still a leader for them even though she’s on the sideline.”

In her absence, setters Reagan Wood and Libby Scepaniak picked up the slack combining for 29 set assists.

“Our setters have worked their tails off, too, I think to prove to everybody that they are good setters,” Jung said. “I was really proud of our setters and our overall attacking. Our kids ran different routes, and we didn’t run the same thing, and we used a lot of hitters.”

The Monarchs bolted out to an 8-1 lead in the opening set in a sign of things to come. Warner served aggressively all match, keeping the Knights on their heels.

“I was proud of our serving,” Jung said. “They spot-served quite well and hit the zones they needed to.”

As a result, the Monarchs lived at the net and dictated the points most of the match. The second set was a near carbon copy of the first before the Knights made some progress in the final set, leveling the score at 12-12 before Warner pulled away.

“We just couldn’t get in a groove at all, no momentum at all,” said Christian coach Sara Powell, “the first two sets for sure.”

With Nilsson watching from the bench, senior Lauren Marcuson helped to fill the leadership void on the court.

“She definitely adds a lot of talking to the game,” Marcuson said of Nilsson, “so I feel like someone has to step up both defense and offensively, and just try to come together as best we can.”

McKenna Leidholt had 10 kills to lead a balanced Warner attack. Marcuson followed with seven and Kyleigh Schopp added six.

Warner’s Kyra Marcuson, left, reaches to hit the ball as Aberdeen Christian’s Jolie Fogarty, center and Arianna Johnson, right, defend the net during Thursday night’s match at the Aberdeen Christian School gym. Photo by John Davis taken 8/24/2023

Jung said the Monarchs have had to make adjustments at practice and younger players on the squad have responded.

“We’ve actually had to rely on a couple young kids to step in at practice and help us out a ton,” Jung said. “Our eighth-grader (Jaycee Jung) did a good job on the right side tonight.”

With Warner attacking at every turn and playing air-tight defense, it left the Knights with little options throughout the contest.

“They have so many good defenders,” Powell said. “I told the girls you can’t send them free balls. They’re going to come and hit us. You can’t send them short balls, they’re going to defend it; deep balls, they’re going to defend it. They’re really a great team. They can really defend any balls, all of them.”

Payton Skarin and Ari Johnson each had two kills to lead Christian, which plays host to Leola-Frederick on Saturday afternoon.

The top-rated Monarchs have now started out on another journey in which they will be expected to win nearly each time they step on the court. Marcuson is used to that pressure.

“I feel like a lot of top teams always have a target on their back whether we’re state champs or not,” Marcuson said. “There’s a bunch of other good Class B teams out there that of course they’re going to be looked at the same way, AA, A, all the same. I feel like we just look at each other very aggressively.”

Serving: Warner 66-72 9 aces (Reagan Wood 16-18 4 aces, Kyleigh Schopp 9-10 2 aces, Courtney Bjorgaard 9-10 1 ace); Aberdeen Christian 23-28 1 ace (Jolie Fogarty 4-6 1 ace, Payton Skarin 6-6, Ari Johnson 5-6).

Hitting: Warner 67-80 37 kills (MaKenna Leidholt 15-18 10 kills, Lauren Marcuson 13-17 7 kills, Schopp 8-11 6 kills); Aberdeen Christian 40-57 7 kills (Skarin 9-12 2 kills, Johnson 9-11 2 kills, Fogarty 5-6 1 kill).

Setting: Warner 73-76 33 assists (Wood 33-36 20 assists, Libby Scepaniak 26-26 9 assists); Aberdeen Christian 57-58 6 assists (Sawyer Schwan 19-19 4 assists, Fogarty 32-33 1 assist).

Digs: Warner 31 (Marcuson 9, Bjorgaard 6, Wood 4); Aberdeen Christian 38 (Alexis Isakson 16, Skarin 8, Fogarty 3).

Blocks: Warner 1 solo 6 assists (Schopp 1 solo 2 assists, Jaycee Jung 2 assists); Aberdeen Christian 6 (Fogarty 2, Sophia Eichler 2, Chloe Bosma 2).

Records: Warner 1-0; Aberdeen Christian 0-1.

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