Panther Valley sweeps past SLA
Panther Valley’s Chloe Diekman digs the ball during Tuesday’s state playoff match, while backing her up is Alexis Cooper. For a video and photo gallery, visit www.tnonline.com. BOB FORD/TIMES
DREXEL HILL – Never settle.
First-year Panther Valley head coach Emilie Baker stressed progress in guiding the program to its fourth straight District 11 title.
And she emphasized it again after the Panthers swept Science Leadership Academy 25-20, 25-8, 25-20 in the first round of the PIAA Class 2A tournament on Tuesday.
While reaching the quarterfinals of the state tournament for the second straight season is another milestone for Panther Valley, Baker wants to make sure it’s not the team’s final destination like it was a year ago.
“Teams get better,” said Baker. “I think we’ve gotten better, but … we’ve got to play.”
The District 12 champion Rockets pushed the Panthers during the match.
The first set was tied at 17-17 before Panther Valley (21-2) went on a 3-0 run to take a lead it would never relinquish, though Science Leadership Academy rallied to cut it to 20-19.
It was more of the same as the second set opened with runs from both sides early, before back-to-back aces from the Rockets’ Niya Petty tied it at 5-5.
After the Panthers took a 6-5 lead, junior Natalie White stepped to the line and produced a service run that resulted in a 19-5 advantage, one that helped Panther Valley find a rhythm in what had been a back-and-forth match.
“It’s a change of a game,” Baker said of the service run. “And I said to them, during the third set, we missed four serves right in a row; we’re getting no runs, and that’s handing teams points that we need to gain some off of.
“We have great servers, but we’ve been very inconsistent lately, and that’s something we need to get better at at this point in the season.”
White finished with seven aces, three digs and two kills.
The Panthers jumped out to an early advantage in the third set and never trailed. But Science Leadership Academy continued to fight back, cutting the deficit to 16-14, forcing the Panthers to take a timeout.
“We’ve got to work harder at being consistent with our serves … and make sure we’re playing our game,” said Baker. “We’ve played a lot better than that; I’ve seen us play a lot better than that, and that’s something that we need to do. We need to come out with our best game.”
Seniors Olivia Dacey, Jenna Dubosky and Lyddia Malaska were also key in helping the Panthers advance.
“They’re very dependable kids, I’ve been saying that all season long,” said Baker. “When we’re in a crunch, we know who we have to get the ball to, and where we have to place it.”
Dacey finished with 12 kills, while Dubosky tallied 13 assists, 10 kills and four digs. Malaska finished with eight kills.
“I think every game you have some type of nerves, because you want to win, so you have to focus on that,” said Dacey. “I was feeling great tonight. I had a couple of hitting errors in the first set, but then in the second and third set I pulled through.”
Science Leadership Academy pulled within two again late in the third set at 21-19, but the Panthers never let it get any closer before closing out the match.
“Coach said that we need to get our serves over, and we need to work on getting our hits in,” Dacey said. “But mostly our serves.”
Panther Valley’s next test will be Saturday against District 4 champion North Penn Liberty (20-0) in the quarterfinals. North Penn Liberty defeated Holy Redeemer 25-14, 25-18, 25-10 in a first-round match on Tuesday.
“I’ve been in this situation as a player before but never a coach, so it’s a little different,” said Baker. “You’re coming down to the wire with the best teams in the state … and it’s on me to figure out what we’ve got to get better at.
“We’ve been working hard every day in the gym – making sure we’re well-conditioned and in great shape and getting better. But this means a lot. They work very hard, and they deserve it.”
YOU AGAIN … Panther Valley also swept Science Leadership Academy in the first round a year ago, posting a 25-13, 25-8, 25-14 victory.
LAST TIME … Delone Catholic topped Panther Valley 25-11, 25-23, 25-17 in the 2A quarterfinals a year ago. “This year, we want to keep going farther, so we have to work hard,” said Dacey.