ROYAL CENTER — In many ways Pioneer and Rochester mirrored each other on the volleyball court in a season-opening match Wednesday night.
Both were semistate teams a year ago that had a lot of new faces on the court and players in different roles.
The Zebras were able to grind out a victory on the road in four games, 28-26, 16-25, 25-23, 25-23.
In the end, the new-look Panthers had too many unforced errors to pull off a win against the Zebras.
“The first and third set we’re up and we have a girl go back there and blow the serve out. Then they come back and beat us in a close set,” Pioneer coach Rod Nies said. “We’re young, the season’s young, we’ve got a lot of work to do. I was expecting a fight like this. I was hoping we’d pull it out. It just wasn’t in the cards.”
The Zebras are also young. They have just one senior on the roster after losing several from last year’s team that went 30-9 and won a regional title in Class 2A.
But Nies was certainly impressed with this year’s edition and in particular 5-10 freshman outside hitter Hannah Towne.
“I think that’s about the best Rochester team I’ve seen them have. ... I think they’re better,” Nies said. “The Towne girl, she’s just a freshman, she’s only going to get better. You can’t teach that kind of athleticism. When I saw her warming up I knew we were going to be in big trouble.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 9-3 lead to start the first game but Rochester stormed back for the 28-26 win. The Panthers led 25-24 when a hitting error tied the score back up. Pioneer led 26-25 when Towne came up with a kill, block and another kill to end it on the Zebras’ side.
Pioneer stormed out to leads of 17-4 and 22-8 in game two and held on for a nine-point.
In game three the Panthers stormed back from a 17-11 deficit and had a chance to win it. Sarah Dorris made an extremely athletic save near the bleachers that led to a Kayte Miller kill that gave the Panthers a 23-21 lead. But they didn’t get the next serve in, and a Rochester ace, a carry and a hitting error later resulted in a Zebras win.
Rochester controlled most of game four and led 23-18 before Pioneer got back in it via three Rochester errors and kills by Maddie Kiser and Hannah Tevis to make it 23-24. But Towne came up with her final booming kill of the match to end it then.
The Panthers are utilizing a new offense this year and it was effective for the most part.
“We’re trying a new offense, we’re trying a triangle offense with a three-middle attack because we’ve got three bigs we want to get the ball to,” Nies said. “There’s a little bit of a learning curve, like on that first rotation there on the first set where we had a mixup with the libero going in for the middle. It’s a new offense, we’re trying something different that fits our personnel and we’re going to get better.
“I’ve got a left side [Dorris] going the opposite of a middle [Tevis], because I want to feature those two because those two can bring the heat.
“It’s going to take some time.”
The Panthers compete at the Marquette Invite in Michigan City on Saturday.
Beau Wicker is the sports editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5113 or email@example.com.