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After a solid start to league play on Thursday, the Royal Valley volleyball team closed out the week with a strong showing in the Jeff West Invitational on Saturday, taking third in the tournament.
The Panthers’ only losses came to host Jeff West (ranked #4 in Class 4A-Division II) and tournament champion Silver Lake (defending state champion and ranked #1 in Class 3A), while the team picked up wins against Valley Falls, Santa Fe Trail and Oskaloosa.
Now, the Panthers will try to take the momentum from the strong finish and use it in another tough league contest as the team gets set to take on Nemaha Central in Seneca on Tuesday with matches starting at 5 p.m.
Scrappy is a term that Royal Valley volleyball coach Denise Visocsky said she hopes will, at least partially, come to define her team this season.
Fittingly, the Panthers saw a lot of that scrappiness the coach wants to see out of her team on the opposite side of the net on Thursday in a pair of season-opening matches at home against Atchison County.
Royal Valley ended up splitting the hard fought contests, falling in three sets (25-23, 18-25 and 20-25) in match one before closing out the night with a win (26-24 and 25-21) to start the season 1-1.
Early on, it was apparent that the Panthers would have to work hard in order to secure a win as Visocsky noted the Tigers did a good job of recovering off Royal Valley’s attacks, as well as using all of the court, whether on the attack themselves or sending a free ball over the net.
On top of that, Royal Valley struggled in serve/receive in the first match of the night and struggled to get some good passes off following the Tigers’ serves. It cost them in the final, deciding set of the first match and was indicative of some overall defensive struggles that the team would work through the rest of the night.
“We just weren’t talking on the back row. We just weren’t meshing, so it took us a little while to get in that position,” Visocsky said.
The Panthers also had some uncharacteristic net calls go against them in addition to some key service errors that factored into the final outcome, both things Visocsky said the team spends plenty of time on in practice, which made the loss all the more frustrating.
Royal Valley was able to release some of that frustration in the second match of the night. While the Tigers looked to be in control again early, the Panthers weathered a storm and came together to pick up the split.
Atchison County’s Shailey Caudle was a force to be reckoned with early, as the Tigers built up a lead, but the Panthers answered with a strong team effort on offense, with hitters Hannah Beam, Sarah Beam, Kate Hanson and Caitlin Burns all getting involved.
In addition, Visocksy said her team was adjusting and making changes to its offense after seeing what the Tigers could do on the defensive end.
“It just felt like we were in a rhythm after that and we adjusted to how they were picking everything up and we had to hit some things a little bit different to make them move more,” Visocsky said.
Hannah Beam started to get in a groove and Kate Hanson had a big block that helped the Panthers come back and tie the game at 18-18.
The teams went back and forth for a while and it looked like ACCHS would pull out another tight set, but back-to-back errors by the Tigers gave Royal Valley a shot at game point and, fittingly, Beam came through with the final kill that allowed the Panthers to get a 26-24 win.
In the second set, it was the younger Beam sister, Sarah, who got the Panthers going on offense and off to an early lead. Both Beams finished with more than five kills in the second match of the night.
While the Beams are proven players for the team, Royal Valley featured two new setters in the varsity line-up on Thursday, with Erica Pruyser and Ali Bryan getting their first starts. There were some inconsistencies, but Visocsky said if they continue to grow this season, then the team could be in good shape considering how things started.
Those setters aren’t the only new players featured on the team and Visocsky noted the Panthers will continue to evolve over the course of the season, which could be seen in the way Royal Valley closed out the second set.
“We’re trying to become a little bit scrappier team overall and I think we’re going to get there. We’re still meshing a little bit, returning our hitters and our libero, but replacing our setter and the whole right side. It will take a while for us to get in that 100 percent groove,” Visocsky said.
Jaycee Worrell and the rest of the defense seemed to get stronger as the final match went on, adjusting to the Tigers’ offense, and Atchison County eventually ran out of gas as the Panthers took the final set of the night 25-21.
Making adjustments played a big part in Royal Valley’s success in the second match, Visocsky said, and that stemmed from all the players on the court trying to pick each other up at all times.
“We tried to always feed off of each others’ good plays, whether it was a kill or a block. We tried to take that momentum from that play and take it on for the next one and the next one,” Visocsky said.
Royal Valley will now try to take that win over ACCHS and build some more momentum in league play moving forward in the season.
Sept. 4, 2014
ACCHS def. Royal Valley: 23-25, 25-18 and 25-20
Royal Valley def. ACCHS: 26-24 and 25-21
Royal Valley def. ACCHS: 25-18 and 25-19
Royal Valley def. ACCHS: 25-11 and 26-24