The Panthers entered bracket play as a No. 1 seed after sweeping its four-team pool 12 games to none. Powell’s pool, pool A, was the only pool with four teams. Pools B, C and D each had three.
Powell beat Thermopolis (25-11, 25-10, 24-24), Sidney, Mont., (25-16, 25-18, 25-10), Lovell (25-18, 25-19, 25-14) and Hardin, Mont., (25-18, 25-17, 25-22) to win pool A Friday.
“We had a great first day playing four matches and 12 sets, going undefeated,” said Panthers head coach Cindi Smith.
The Panthers were rewarded for winning their pool with a first round bye in Saturday’s bracket.
Powell’s first game was against conference foe Jackson. The Panthers hung tough with the Broncs but ultimately lost 23-25, 18-25.
“At time we just didn’t get into the flow, which made it hard for us to be productive offensively,” Smith said.
The loss eliminated the Panthers from title contention and moved them into the consolation bracket.
Powell took care of business in game 1 by beating the Dawson Red Devils (Glendive, Mont.) 25-14, 25-12 to advance to the quarterfinals, where they faced off against another Montana team, this time the Miles City Cowgirls.
The Panthers played two tough yet inconsistent games against the Cowgirls. Powell dropped the match in straight sets (19-25, 22-25) and was eliminated from the tournament.
“The bracket portion wasn’t as smooth at times (and) we just weren’t in sync and didn’t always start out as strong as we need to,” Smith said.
The coach said slow starts sometimes hurt the Panthers.
“(We need to) be mentally ready to try hard and know what you want to do first point out,” Smith said.
But the Panthers competed until the final play, which is something Smith said she is proud of.
“We stayed determined and never gave up,” Smith said. “This is a great group of girls to work with and they will come back next week ready to work hard.”
The tournament gave Smith an opportunity to carry a couple junior varsity players on her varsity roster and get them some valuable experience.
Sophomores Makaila Moore and Delaney Dent were called up to join the varsity squad because, “we felt like there were some areas they could help us on,” coach Smith said.
The Panthers recorded 158 kills over 18 sets, an average of 8.77 per set. Freshman Kalina Smith led the team with 53 kills, followed by senior Tori Sleep with 30, senior Shawnea Harrington with 20 and senior Cassidi Partridge with 20 of her own.
Junior libero Jenni Ebersberger led the team in digs with 95. Junior Kelsey Marchant had 72, Kalina Smith had 53 and Breanna Donarski had 31.
Moore was the only Panther to serve without committing an error. Donarski had a 97.9 serving percentage, Ebersberger’s was 95.4 percent and Marchant’s was 90.2 percent.
The Panthers play today (Tuesday) at 5 p.m. against Lovell and then travel to Rawlins for a tournament Friday and Saturday.