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Panthers sweep Knights

Marnie Wagner of NRHEG spikes the ball Thursday as Alden-Conger's Madison Erickson, left, and Renae Linn defend in the season opener for both teams at NRHEG. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Marnie Wagner of NRHEG spikes the ball Thursday as Alden-Conger’s Madison Erickson, left, and Renae Linn defend in the season opener for both teams at NRHEG. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

NEW RICHLAND — Although the terms contradict each other, the season opener for the NRHEG and Alden-Conger volleyball teams was a narrow sweep.

The Panthers and Knights were either tied or within one point of each other after both teams reached the 20-point mark in all three games.

NRHEG edged Alden-Conger 25-23 in Game 1, 25-23 in Game 2 and completed the sweep with a 25-22 victory in Game 3 Thursday at NRHEG.

“Volleyball is such a momentum game,” said Panthers coach Onika Peterson. “They did a really nice job not letting those big runs that Alden went on get them down. We kept fighting.”

Game 1 was tied at four, then 15, then 22. After NRHEG made two of the next three points, Maddie Wagner made the game-winning kill.

Midway through Game 2, Alden-Conger went on a 7-1 run behind Erika Bute’s jump serve to build a 19-12 lead. However, the Panthers retaliated with a 13-4 run that was capped with Abby Wacholz’s game-winning kill.

“We just didn’t close (out the game),” said Alden-Conger coach Jolene Bute. “We played flat.”

In Game 3, NRHEG led 20-16 before the Knights closed the gap to one point. The rally fell short as the Panthers came through for the third consecutive game with a game-winning kill to win the match.

“We have some heavy hitters across the front,” Peterson said. “We’re not super tall. We don’t look like we’re going to hit the ball really well, but we’ve got some power behind us.”

Marnie Wagner led NRHEG with seven kills and 24 digs. Maddie Wagner had three kills and 23 digs, and Wacholz added seven kills and 12 digs.

NRHEG’s Anna Lundberg produced a game-high 16 assists.

Alden-Conger was led by freshman Erika Bute, who led all players with nine kills and 29 digs. She also led the Knights with 14 assists.

Kelsey Newman added seven kills and 15 digs, Madison Erickson had four kills and 18 digs and Abby Reyerson had 21 digs for the Knights.

NRHEG and Alden-Conger met in the season opener the last three years, and the home team has yet to lose. In 2014, the Knights won 3-1 at Alden. In 2013, the Panthers won 3-1 at New Richland.

“We usually scrimmage them so you have somewhat of an idea what you’re going to get, but you never really know what Jolene’s going to throw at you,” Peterson said. “I really like what she does, and I have a lot of respect for (her).”

Next, NRHEG will play four consecutive road games. The Panthers will start the rest of their schedule at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Nicollet, a match that will be followed by contests at Kenyon-Wanamingo, Maple River and Le Sueur-Henderson.

Alden-Conger has two matches and a tournament at Hayfield before its home opener against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15.

Next, the Knights will play Medford at 7:15 p.m. Thursday.