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Panthers rebound from home volleyball loss, crush Eagles 3-0

By Sue Sitter - | Sep 25, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Panthers middle blockers Peyton Hauck, left, and Mykell Heidlebaugh block an attack by Nedrose outside hitter Kailee McRoy.

A 3-1 volleyball loss at home against the Nedrose Cardinals Sept. 14 may have stunned the Panthers for a day or so, but it didn’t define them, according to Head Coach Jessica Fritz.

The Panthers emphasized that point in Newburg two days later, when they defeated the Westhope-Newburg Eagles 3-0.

“The girls played a lot more confident today,” Fritz said after the win against the Eagles. “We talked a lot at practice about how one game doesn’t define our team and we need to move onto the next game. Tonight, the girls did just that.”

At home, the Panthers had won set one of the Sept. 14 game with apparent ease, trouncing the Cardinals 25-12. Then, the Cardinals grew intense, while the Panthers seemed to grow complacent. The Cardinals took the first point on an out-of-bounds Panther attack before the Panthers seemed to regain control. Then, a series of Panther errors, powerful blocks by Nedrose outside hitters Madison Hayes and Kailee McRoy, and aces by defensive specialist Mariana Quezada put the Cardinals on the Panthers’ tails.

They didn’t let go. Toward the set’s end, Nedrose held a 22-18 lead. Mixed signals for the Cardinals and a kill by Panthers middle blocker Peyton Hauck helped the Panthers gain two more points, but the Cards took set two 25-21.

Nedrose players seemed almost surprised by their win. Players and their fans screamed with enthusiasm. The Cards dialed up their aggression for set three, leading by as many as nine points before the Panthers caught up. Nedrose took the set 25-17. The Panthers fought hard in set four, staying neck and neck with the Cards until they lost 22-25.

“Nedrose caught us standing on our heels and not playing our best defense. They played a strong game and hit the ball well. And we just struggled defensively and offensively against them,” Fritz said of the game.

The Panthers recovered quickly for their game against the Eagles in Newburg.

Panthers outside hitter Brooke Anderson met a powerful serve by the Eagles’ Ellie Braaten with a kill to start set one off. An ace by setter Kiah Gault followed, giving the Panthers a foundation to build a steady lead on. After a sideout for the Eagles, Panthers middle blocker and Eagles middle hitter Kimberly Tabarez traded kills, but Rugby kept a comfortable lead by as many as five points before a kill by Panthers outside hitter Mykell Heidlebaugh, aces by libero Anna Johnson and an ace by Leier gave Rugby a commanding 16-9 lead. The Eagles fought on, managing four more points from Panther errors. However, the Eagles had a few of their own. The set ended with a 25-13 lead.

Not willing to rest on their laurels, the Panthers kept up the pressure for set two. Kills by Anderson and Leier, together with an ace by Gault, started the set off with a 3-0 Panthers lead. The Eagles trailed farther behind as the game went on, but they made the Panthers work for every point.

With the Eagles trailing 7-2, a Braaten kill gave the Eagles a point and a sideout. A long rally, with dig after dig and attacks on both sides, ended with Heidlebaugh tapping a kill just over the net for an 8-3 lead. After a Newburg-Westhope error, Tabarez landed a kill for the Eagles. An out-of-bounds Rugby attack and contact violation narrowed Rugby’s lead to 9-3. A kill by Hauck was answered on the next serve by a Braaten block. More violations by Westhope and a kill by Rugby rear hitter Joran Jundt helped put lots more distance between the Panthers and Eagles, despite two more long rallies.

A kill by Leier gave the Panthers a 20-9 lead. Misserves on both sides plus an ace by Leier put the score at 22-10 before Panthers and Eagles traded misserves again. An ace by Panthers setter Joey Wolf put the Panthers at set point. Another ace for Wolf sewed the set up for Rugby.

Set three saw a bumpy start for Rugby. A serve and attack sailed out of bounds on the Panthers to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. A Leier kill came before another long rally. Eagles middle hitter Jaidyn Graf deflected an attack out of bounds, tying the game at two each. Both Eagles and Panthers traded kills. This time, the Panthers battled neck-and-neck with Newburg-Westhope.

Leier and Anderson continued to rack up kills for Rugby, while a block by Rugby rear hitter Annika Johnson and a service ace by Wolf helped put some distance between the teams. A block by Hauck and a kill by Anderson gave Rugby an 18-14 lead. An ace by defensive specialist Saige Connot put Rugby within sight of match point.

However, the Eagles weren’t ready to concede. Another kill by Tabarez and errors by Panthers moved Newburg-Westhope closer. The Panthers lead soon shrunk to 20-18. Both teams traded service errors, putting the score at 22-19.

A Braaten kill told the Panthers the game was far from over. Still, the Panthers inched ahead, thanks to a kill by Annika Johnson. Another kill by Heidlebaugh gave the Panthers a hard-fought match point. An Eagles error gave Rugby the final set win, 25-21.

A contingent of students and Rugby fans boosted the team’s spirits for the ride home to Rugby.

“They played United and as a team,” Fritz said. “We talk about bringing our own energy to the game and they did that. Once again we had an amazing student section that helped cheer us on to another victory.”

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