Senior-laden Lady Panthers lived up to expectations

Bonander, Stenerson, Thorington named all-conference, Stenerson all-state

Posted 11/13/18

With a large amount of returning talent on the roster, the Powell Lady Panthers volleyball team entered the season with high expectations — and they lived up to them.

The Lady Panthers …

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Senior-laden Lady Panthers lived up to expectations

Bonander, Stenerson, Thorington named all-conference, Stenerson all-state

Posted

With a large amount of returning talent on the roster, the Powell Lady Panthers volleyball team entered the season with high expectations — and they lived up to them.

The Lady Panthers topped the 3A Northwest quadrant with a perfect 6-0 record, won 21 games (19 officially, plus two in pool play at the Rawlins Invite) and made it to the Class 3A state tournament, where they unofficially tied for fifth. To top it all off, three seniors — Rachel Bonander, Aubrie Stenerson and Hartly Thorington — were named All-Conference players while Stenerson was named All-State.

“We’ve never been to state for any of our years playing volleyball,” Rachel Bonander said. “That was definitely a goal of ours that we were glad we reached, but it wasn’t just that. We didn’t want to just stop and say, ‘Oh we just made it to state.’ We wanted to go farther, and even though it didn’t work out the way we wanted, we’re still proud of each other and what we did accomplish.”

Fueling that success this season was a group of nine seniors, many of whom had played together since elementary school.

“The chemistry we had was really good,” Stenerson said. “We knew what each of us liked, we knew what would tick us off and what we needed if we had a couple of mess-ups and everything. We knew how to handle each other.”

PHS head coach Randi Bonander believes that chemistry paid off for her team this fall.

“Girls are a special thing,” coach Bonander said. “It’s difficult sometimes for them to work together and know that when they work with each other, they’re not upset at each other — most of the time they’re upset at themselves. Getting past that and having those relationships for so many years I think helped them be able to do that and really put the team first.”

Another hallmark of this year’s PHS volleyball team was its ability to rally. The Lady Panthers came back from a 2-0 deficit in Lander on Oct. 9 to stay undefeated in quadrant play, overcame a 20-8 deficit in a set at Lovell on Sept. 21 and then rallied from a 23-19 deficit in the fourth set of the third-place regional match against Lander on Oct. 27 to pull out a five-set victory.

“As the coach, and having a year where we did play the comeback kid, I would definitely prefer not to do that all the time, but it sure seemed like it worked to our advantage more than it didn’t,” coach Bonander said.

Stenerson said the Lady Panthers prepared a lot for those high-pressure situations.

“We do a lot of drills in practice where we’re down by so much and then we have to come back and end up winning it in the end,” Stenerson said. “I think those drills really helped us bring that onto the court in [gametime] situations.”

Ironically, coach Bonander believes that tendency for the Lady Panthers to get behind then rally might have caught up to them at the state tournament, where Powell got behind in its two losses but could not come back.

“I do feel like when you get to state you have to get the jump and start out strong right away,” the coach said. “I think that’s maybe the place where it started to give us trouble, because when you get to state, all the other teams [there] start out strong from the first serve and the first ball.”

Despite not winning a state championship, coach Bonander and the Lady Panthers believe that this season — and getting to the state tournament in the first place — was a success.

“It was definitely a different atmosphere since none of us had really been to state besides just to watch,” Thorington said. “It was cool just to be playing on the court with each other for our last games of the season and our last games with each other, especially us seniors.”

When asked which match or matches stood out the most this season, Stenerson and Rachel Bonander agreed it was a match against Worland at regionals, where the winner earned a state tournament berth and the loser’s season was over.

“We definitely played together as a team,” Rachel Bonander said. “That was one of our best games for everyone. We just pulled it together because we all wanted the same goal.”

Thorington pointed to a different matchup with Worland — the Sept. 15 home opener — as another highlight.

“We were all pumped up, we were ready to go. ... It was our first home conference game, so we really wanted to start out great,” Thorington said.

As for her three postseason award winners — Thorington, Stenerson and Rachel Bonander — coach Bonander said it “was an extremely difficult decision to choose who to nominate.”

“But I can back up all the girls by looking at multiple stat categories to prove this honor is well deserved,” she said. “The tough part of the decision is that all the other ladies on the team were essential to us making it as far as we did — even if they were cheering us on from the bench, or noticing weaknesses during matches.”

Stenerson earned All-State honors again, “because of the commitment she has had in being a multi-sport athlete and working in the offseason to improve her skills for regular season,” the coach said. “Every one of these ladies played an essential part to the success of our team on multiple different occasions throughout the season. Any one player’s success is due to the efforts of the entire team and program.”

Despite losing nine seniors to graduation, the Lady Panthers’ cupboard isn’t bare. Powell’s junior varsity went 27-1-1 in 2017 and many of those players will be leading the way next season.

“... Several of the girls that were on JV did get some playing time on the varsity court, so they got to see the difference in the game,” coach Bonander said. “It will help them prepare in the offseason and be ready when [the] season starts next year.”

The coach also believes that the experience of the state tournament will help next season.

“There is no other venue during the season that has that kind of atmosphere where you’ve got four courts going at the same time, you’ve got nets up in between them — and the lights, the crowd,” she said, “and just the enormity of it, I think, is a really good experience for the younger girls to take that forward.”

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