At times the Panther girls looked to be in total control of the match, but would then allow the Fillies to sustain rallies and regain momentum.
“Momentum is such a big part of the game. We need to continue to work to keep it on our side,” said head coach Cindi Smith.
The final set of the match was a perfect example of Powell failing to finish off what appeared to be a fading Cody team, until the Panthers’ fans had become completely uneasy.
The set started with the Panthers up two games to one, but only outscoring Cody by two up to that point.
With the set tied at five, the Panthers started to put some distance between themselves and the rival Fillies, who had brought their own sizable cheering section from Cody.
The Panthers, who found offense from players at every position, scored four straight points.
Junior Shawnea Harrington tallied one of her eight kills from the outside to make it 6-5 before junior Tori Sleep accounted for three straight Panther points.
Sleep blocked Cody’s outside attack to make it 7-5, then placed two smartly guided balls gently over the net, away from Cody’s defense, putting the Panthers up 9-5.
The Panthers lost the serve, but only for one point as senior Corianne McKearney tallied one of her six kills – this one from the outside.
“It is nice when we can keep our offense balanced,” Smith said.
The Fillies weren’t done though as they rallied to make it a one point game. A net violation on Powell and a tipped ball by senior Becky Dent that went into the net gave Cody two easy points and the game was 11-10 in favor of the Panthers.
Powell had apparently seen enough as it went on a 13-3 run that put the game out of reach for the Fillies. Dent accounted for five of the Panthers’ 12 points during this stretch by notching four kills and one block. She finished with 20 kills and two blocks for the match.
“Becky stepped on the court ready to compete,” Smith said. “She brought a lot of energy and determination to the court.”
The Panthers were up 24-13, with the game seemingly in hand. The rowdy Powell student section began chanting of the match as if it were already in the books. But they would have to wait another 12 excruciating points before the Panthers would make good on the crowd’s bold cheers.
The Fillies scored in any and every way possible, and found some help from their opponents.
A Cody kill followed by an ace brought the Fillies within nine, at 24-15.
Smith wasted no time calling a time out to squash any chance of Cody gaining all of the momentum and going on an unbelievable run.
But out of the timeout the Fillies scored four consecutive points. Two attempts to win the set and the match, one by Harrington and one by Dent, went long and brought Cody within five.
With Powell now leading 24-19, the Panther faithful again piped up, this time with a cheer of “I believe that we will win!” The odds were in their favor but their facial expressions didn’t make them entirely believable.
From the sideline Smith encouraged her team and reminded them to “be smart.”
The next play sent everybody home thanks to a Cassidi Partridge kill from the backside.
The threat was contained. The collapse was avoided.
Each set followed a similar script. The score would be close, Powell would pull away, and then a couple mental errors or miscommunications would give Cody new life.
The first set saw a 16-13 Panthers lead slip away and become 17-17. Then a 22-18 lead turned into a too-close-for-comfort 24-22 lead before they put the Fillies away.
The Panthers got off to a hot start to begin the second set. Up 4-0 following two kills by Dent and one by Partridge, Powell seemed to be cruising to an easy victory.
But Cody battled back and turned a 9-4 deficit to a 12-12 tie. The Panthers would not lead again in this set.
The Fillies capitalized on two consecutive questionable calls by the line judges to go up 14-12.
Cody played aggressive and got plenty of hits down in the Powell defense, but the Panthers continued to shoot themselves in the foot with sloppy play.
Panther defenders watched softly hit balls drop between them four times during this stretch, with each player expecting the other to make the play.
“Be smart!” Smith yelled from the sidelines for the first, but not last, time of the match.
A net violation and several poor passes on serve receive doomed the Panthers in the only set they’d lose.
The third set, while not the decisive set, ultimately decided who would win the match.
The Panthers got off to another strong start, going up 5-1 thanks to kills from Partridge and Dent, as well as two Cody net violations.
But again, as was the night’s theme, the Fillies galloped back and tied the set at eight.
Aggressive front row play from Partridge, Sleep, Harrington and McKearney led the charge for the Panthers.
The girls up front provided more than just kills and blocks. They kept plays alive by playing tough balls off the net and winning 50-50 balls against Cody’s front row.
Powell’s 16-11 lead was the biggest cushion the Panthers would get in the third set.
Cody came back again, and again and again. The Fillies led by one point at three different times – 17-16, 19-18 and 20-19.
A thundering kill by McKearney knotted the set at 20, and Powell would not again trail in the match.
Up 24-22, a lift violation was called on Powell, pushing the Panthers within one point of relinquishing game point.
But Becky Dent crushed a spike on the next play that was dug right back to her over the net, which she then put straight down for the kill, and the win.
For all of the mental errors that plagued the Panthers during the match, they served strong and consistently. Powell finished with a 92.7 serve-in percentage and finished with eight kills.
Senior setter Kadi Cooley notched five kills for herself. Cooley also recorded 36 assists.
Like the Panthers offense, the defense came from a variety of players. Dent, Cooley, Harrington, sophomore libero Jenni Ebersberger, sophomore Kelsey Marchant and sophomore Megan Wagner all finished with double digit digs.
Smith said before the match that defeating Cody in the Panthers’ final conference match would be crucial as it would determine seeding going into this weekend’s conference duals, and would give the team confidence heading into the first match against No. 2 ranked Star Valley on Friday.
Friday’s matches start at 3 p.m. All varsity matches will be held in the Sweitzer Gym at Cody High School.