By Rick Conrad
For the Pharos-Tribune
---- — ROYAL CENTER — The Pioneer Lady Panthers began shooting for their eighth consecutive volleyball sectional championship on Thursday night when they easily disposed of Tri-County in three games. When they resumed play on Saturday in Royal Center the Panthers picked up where they left off.
In a semifinal matchup against the Rebels of South Newton, the Panthers easily ended the Rebels season, 25-12, 25-9, 25-21, earning them the right to defend their crown from a year ago.
In the championship game against a stubborn North White team, the Panthers went to work and controlled nearly every part of the game in cruising to an eighth straight sectional crown by defeating the Vikings in three sets, 25-17, 25-16, 25-10.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have to play well because we had everything to lose and the other teams didn’t,” senior libero Megan Smith said. “We’d played each team before and they played us really tough. We tried really hard to stay focused against them and I think we did. It’s pretty neat winning this for the eighth year in a row and going on to regionals. I tore my ACL last year and didn’t get to be a part of it so I’m really looking forward to this.”
Pioneer (26-9) will travel to Washington Township for a regional match on Tuesday.
When Pioneer began its match with North White (24-9), the Panthers looked a bit lethargic on offense. They found themselves down 6-1 before things started to click for them.
Once Pioneer got things going it didn’t take them long to take control of the match. Eight unanswered points by the Panthers forced North White into one of their many timeouts during the match. With Pioneer controlling the ball, showing patience on offense and passing the ball well, North White fell in game one 25-17 with PHS sophomore Kelsey Hill serving out the last five points of the game.
Game two was much of the same and Pioneer proved to be no match for the Vikings. Still operating with good passes and good ball control the Lady Panthers easily won 25-16.
In game three Pioneer simply had worn down the Vikings as the offense continued to spark and the defense continued to be stingy in giving up any points to North White. The result was a 25-10 win giving the Panthers yet another sectional title.
“Feels awesome to win this again. We tried to focus on the court today and make things count,” said Kayte Miller. “Coach has always told us that the first game is money and we have to make it count. It all starts with good passing and making that good set. So we just went out there and got it. I’m looking forward to continuing.”
Leading the Panthers in their match with the Vikings was Riley Morris with 24 assists, two aces and six digs. Also leading the way was Sarah Dorris with 13 kills and 10 digs. Smith had a kill and 22 digs while Miller ended with four kills, an assist and 11 digs. Hannah Tevis ended with 12 kills, a dig and two blocks while Shelby Roller ended with 16 assists and seven digs.
In the afternoon match with South Newton, Morris finished with three kills, 20 assists, four aces and two digs. She was followed by Dorris with 10 kills, an assist, two aces, 15 digs and a block. Also for Pioneer, Roller ended with a kill, seven assists, three aces and 11 digs. Miller added seven kills, an assist and 14 digs to the attack, while Hill added a kill, five aces and five digs. Smith had an ace and 11 digs while Tevis ended with 13 kills and a block.
“After the Cass County Invitational I kind of called my two best players out. I wasn’t happy with the way we had played and that we had lost focus,” Panthers coach Rod Nies said. “I told them that if we didn’t improve we would have trouble winning a really easy sectional. That unintentionally became locker room fodder for a couple of these other teams and they really came after us. But I got the response I wanted from my team. They came out and played well in all three matches during the sectional.”
The wakeup call worked. Now the Panthers are shooting for their third regional title in the last four years and second in a row. They beat Washington Township in three games a year ago in regional play.
Washington Township also swept through its sectional this year, which included a 25-16, 25-13, 25-22 win over Michigan City Marquette.