The Rugby Panthers rolled to their 5th-straight District 11 Volleyball Championship this season, defeating the Velva Aggies in five sets in the final. The end of the road for the team's success is unknown, but the journey started years ago on the family farm.
Rugby's Blessum clan of 46 cousins has led to a generation of volleyball greatness. This year's Panthers core featuring sisters Maria and Sarah along with cousins Brooke Blessum and Kelly Swanson have been working on the craft long before the high school stage.
"We get together like every other week in the summer and there's always a volleyball net in everyone's yard," said Maria, a senior outside hitter for the Panthers. "I would've probably not started playing volleyball until 7th grade junior high... but because of them I've been playing my whole life."
"We've been playing volleyball together since probably grade school, and it's just so fun to actually play competitive volleyball against other teams with them," said Sarah, Rugby's sophomore setter.
The Blessums have been a joy to coach for Jessica Fritz, from Maria's senior leadership, to Sarah setting on the varsity level for the first time, to Brooke and Kelly's production.
"They bring a lot of leadership skills," said Fritz. "They work hard every day. They're always getting after everything. Every drill we give them they take it to 110% and on the court they're a force."
Playing the game for years together has brought a sixth sense onto the Rugby volleyball court.
"We definitely know more about each other, and I think that helps us play together," said Brooke, Rugby's sophomore middle hitter.
"There's definitely a special chemistry there," Maria added. "Whenever Sarah is going to do something I can kind of tell right away what she's going for or who she's going to set... It's a lot of fun."
For all that they've accomplished, there's still one more dream to achieve this fall: leading the Panthers to the State Tournament.
"That would be amazing just with all of us. [It would] probably [be] the highlight of my volleyball and high school career to go to that state tournament with all of us," said Kelly, junior middle blocker for the Panthers.
"It'd mean a lot plus since we haven't been to the state tournament before," said Brooke. "I think it'd be a lot of fun and a new thing we can try to accomplish, just to get there."
Maria will be graduating this year, but Sarah, Brooke and Kelly will all be back in 2019.