After opening with a win in their first volleyball competition, the Powell Lady Panthers stumbled a bit last week, but finished strong at the Border Wars in Billings last week.
After earning a bye in bracket play on Friday, the Panthers fell to conference rival Lander in the quarterfinals, but came back to score two wins in consolation play in the tournament, which pitted six Wyoming teams against six Montana squads.
Lander advanced to the championship, but fell to Cody in the finals.
The Lady Panthers opened pool play against Miles City, Mont. on Friday and fell to the Cowgirls 2-1 in three close games.
After dropping the first set 15-12, they came back to win the second 15-13, but lost the deciding final 15-12.
They came back to take the next two matches in two games, defeating Hardin, Mont. 15-8, 15-10 and Glendive, Mont. 15-9,15-10, and won the top seed from the pool in a tiebreaker over Lovell and Lander.
On Saturday, Lander challenged the Lady Panthers after taking a narrow win over Laurel, Mont. in the first round. The Lady Tigers carried the momentum into the semi-final and opened up a narrow lead over Powell early. The Lady Panthers took a brief lead, but fell behind 21-18 late before making a comeback to come within a point at 23-22. A long Powell serve gave Lander a chance at game point, and a bad Powell pass ended the match.
Game two was more of the same, but at the end, Powell was unable to get a comeback started, and Lander took the match 25-17.
Coach Cindi Smith said the team, is still learning to play together in accounting for the loss.
“Communication is rough for us right now with four new starters,” Smith said.
The loss dropped the Lady Panthers into consolation, where they faced Lovell, and their woes continued in the first set of that match. The Lady Bulldogs were able to exploit a hole in the middle of the Powell defense and block a number of Lady Panther attacks on their way to a 25-22 win in the first game, but they came back strong in game two for a 25-14 game-two win and finished the match 15-6.
In their final matchup, the Lady Panthers again dropped their first game 22-25, but with both teams battling exhaustion, they were able to recover to take the next two sets, 25-21 and 17-7.
“We had a slow start both days,” Smith said of the weekend's competition. “But we made some adjustments and were able to turn things around,”
Offensively, the Lady Panthers were led by Olivia Rodgers' 49 kills for the tournament. Randi Asay contributed 19 kills and Kendra Ostrom scored 17. Ostrom was 100 percent from the service line and Kadi Cooley was 94 percent accurate.
Defensively, Hannah Groves led the back line with 43 digs, followed by Rogers with 35 and Ostrom with 22. On the front line, Liz Tilley made five blocks by herself and assisted on eight more. Corianne McKearney made three solo blocks and helped on eight, while Rogers made three solo blocks and assisted on four.
“We're still just trying to find what will make us tick,” Smith said. “That's what the early season is for.”
She has a new group of good kids, Smith said who are ready to work hard and get better, and leadership is developing.
The tournament results, particularly the loss to Lander and Cody's first-place finish, are an indication of the challenge the Lady Panthers face in defending their regional title, Smith said.
“It's going to be tough in conference this year. It will be interesting,” Smith said.
The Lady Panthers travel to Rawlins for another tournament challenge Friday and Saturday, where they will likely see competition from the East region as will as from Southwest Conference foes.
Next week, they will stay closer to home, traveling to Greybull on Tuesday for a dual beginning at 6:30 p.m. and visiting Cody for their first conference match of the season on Thursday in a match scheduled for 6:15.