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Panther volleyball breaks even in 3A duals

Panthers let leads slip away during frustrating weekend

What could have been? This is what many players of the Powell High School volleyball team asked themselves following their final match at the 3A conference duals in Cody this weekend.

Despite ending on a positive note — a 3-0 defeat of Mountain View — the Panthers felt their results didn’t match their potential.

The Panthers went 2-2 during the two-day event. Powell lost its first matches Friday and Saturday before picking it back up and taking the last match of each day.

“We never stepped up and played our game,” said head coach Cindi Smith.

The Panthers’ momentum was often fleeting, as long rallies would quickly turn into comebacks for the opponent.

“We have a lot of talent and lot of potential,” senior setter Kadi Cooley said. “(But) we didn’t step out ready.”

Strong starts followed by unforced errors was the theme of the weekend for the Panthers. Powell won the opening set of each of its four matches, but only managed a .500 record.

The stinger was a 3-1 loss to No. 2 Star Valley Friday morning.

The Panthers took the first set against the Braves 25-22, and were poised to prove they belonged in the same conversation with the elite 3A teams, but dropped the next three sets 18-25, 19-25, 18-25.

Powell played with a hustle and urgency in the first set that has often led to success for the Panthers. But they were unable to match that intensity in the following sets.

Star Valley jumped on Powell early in the second set, racing out to a 10-4 lead. The Panthers cut it to four on a couple occasions but could get no closer.

Powell’s offense woke up again in the third set, going point-for-point with the Braves and taking a 12-10 lead. But Star Valley responded by going on a 12-5 run and putting the set out of reach.

The Panthers’ 2-1 lead in the beginning of the fourth set would be their final lead of the match as miscommunication and poor defense made a Panthers comeback too tall a task.

“We defeated ourselves that match,” Cooley said, adding that she thought they’d take the match after the first set victory.

The Panthers had only two players with double digit kills (Becky Dent, 16, and senior middle Corianne McKearney, 10) and only two others with more than five.

The lack of offensive diversity was evident in Cooley’s numbers. Only 17 percent of her sets went for kills against Star Valley, almost 8 percent less than during her other three duals.

“Star Valley swung at us and we didn’t swing back,” Dent said. “And that’s what killed us.”

Powell bounced back in its Friday afternoon match by defeating Pinedale 26-24, 25-13, 21-25, 25-17. Powell’s play did not greatly improve but the Panthers benefited from playing an overmatched opponent.

Powell’s serve regressed against the Wranglers as the Panthers made a weekend-high 11 service errors. Luckily for Powell, Pinedale’s own miscues proved more costly.

Powell found offense from the usual spots as Dent had 13 kills and McKearney had eight. McKearney also had four aces, four digs and a block. Dent notched a game-high 24 digs.

The Panthers also found defensive help from a new face. Freshman Breanna Donarski dug 17 Pinedale attacks in a rare varsity appearance.

Going into day two, the Panthers had a chance to win out with eighth-ranked Lyman and unranked Mountain View on its schedule.

Powell once again took a 1-0 advantage to start the match, but then lost three closely contested sets 22-25, 22-25, 21-25.

Coach Smith said the team had a hard time playing a complete game.

“(We) can’t have a missing link in this game,” she said. “It’s really a matter of stepping out and playing to our potential.”

Dent described the Panthers as a “mood swing” team with real high highs and real low lows.

The team’s next high was a 3-0 sweep of Mountain View.

The Panthers missed a weekend-low three serves and Cooley notched three aces as Powell got a convincing victory over the Buffaloes.

“We really stepped it up as a team,” Dent said of the Panthers’ final match.

Dent led the Panthers with 14 kills and 17 digs, while sophomore Jenni Ebersberger and Kelsey Marchant had 11 digs each.

McKearney finished a strong weekend with another eight kills and two blocks. McKearney’s active play at the net was a bright spot for a up-and-down Panthers team.

“I don’t think we showed it but I think we’re the best team here,” Dent said.

Dent said the team is going to work really hard the next two weeks to prepare for 3A West regionals in Lyman.

Cooley said the team needs to stay mentally focused and come to practice ready to work.

“I think we’ll play a lot better (at regionals),” Dent said.

The Panthers have a final tune-up game against non-conference opponent Worland on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Powell.

The Panthers (5-1 in conference play) have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Northwest and will play the fourth-seeded team in the 3A Southwest division.

Powell will travel to Lyman for the 3A West regionals Oct. 19 and 20.