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.