2019 Class 3A Volleyball State Champions Royal Valley Panthers
The Royal Valley Panthers have another state championship trophy to add to the trophy case.
Just eight months after the RV girls basketball team earned the school’s second-only state championship at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, the Panther volleyball team earned the Class 3A title on Saturday on the exact same court.
It’s the first state championship in volleyball in RVHS history.
“I’m still in a little bit of shock,” RV head coach Gary Armstrong said Sunday. “It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It was very exciting to watch, and when the girls put things together, it was perfect. You can’t help but feel proud of them and their accomplishments. They’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”
The Panthers, who were seeded third in the state tournament, defeated the Beloit Trojans, the top seed, in straight sets, 25-19 and 25-18, to take the state title during bracket play Saturday morning.
“They know what to do to win,” Coach Armstrong said. “We had senior Kenzie Ogden out there driving them and pushing them. It was tremendous for us to have that leadership on the court. When we started playing, we saw the championship. We knew we had them rattled, and we just went for it.”
In the first set against Beloit, the teams knotted up the score five times before RV pulled away, 25-19. The Panthers never let go of their early lead in the second set and won 25-19.
“We were calm and cool, and everybody was focused,” Armstrong said. “We just rolled.”
After going 3-0 in state pool play on Friday, RV started Saturday’s bracket play against Cheney, the fourth seed. The Panthers confidently took the two-set match, 25-17 and 25-17, to head to the title game.
“We knew what we had to do. It seemed like the other teams were playing safe and not to win. And that’s my biggest thing with the kids – you never play safe,” he said. “You always play to win in order to push yourself and to keep pressure on the other team. We kept putting pressure on the other teams, and they didn’t respond. So we kept going.”
In pool play on Friday morning, the Panthers faced familiar rivals Silver Lake (sixth seed) and Nemaha Central (seventh seed) to start the tournament.
The Panthers led early in the first set over Silver Lake and had an 17-9 lead at one point. The Lady Eagles, who were the defending state champs, worked their way to just a two-point difference before RV won 25-23.
“We came ready to play on Friday because we knew we had some hurdles we had to get over right off the bat,” Armstrong said. “We were excited, and we remembered falling to Silver Lake in sub-state last year. We were focused on what we needed to do this year. The girls wanted it, and you could tell. We had started something, and we wanted to finish it.”
In the second set, RV trailed Silver Lake until the teams were knotted at 8-8. RV junior hitter Ivy Fink found her rhythm with several strong hits and that momentum carried the Panthers to a 25-21 win.
“We knew if we got past Silver Lake, we’d be sitting well for bracket play. We knew Nemaha was going to be tough, though,” he said.
Against the Big Seven League foe, the Panthers dropped the first set, 25-23.
“After that first set, my assistant coach, Kyann Eslick, jumped in and got into them,” Armstrong said. “She was trying to get them fired up. I sat back and let her have at it. It was good for the girls to hear another voice. I think they realized that they needed to get down to business or they’d lose it all. After that, we went out there, and we did what we needed to do.”
In the second set, RV took a 15-4 lead and won the set 25-17. In the third set, the teams went back and forth early before the Panthers pulled away with a 25-18 win.
In the last pool match of the day for Class 3A, RV defeated the Frontenac Raiders in straight sets, 25-16 and 25-10.
“I’d watched video on Frontenac, and they weren’t my biggest concern in the pool. I figured if we could defeat Silver Lake and Nemaha, we could get by Frontenac without any problems,” Armstrong said. “We knew if we won the pool, we’d be sitting well for bracket play.”
This is Royal Valley’s first state volleyball title in school history. The Panthers did take third place at state volleyball in 2014 under coach Denise Visocsky, now at Jackson Heights.
“It feels awesome. The girls are probably still celebrating. I know the parents are. I keep getting a lot of texts from them and the community,” Armstrong said. “It was tremendous to see how many came to Hutchinson. They knew they had a team that could go all the way. The community has supported us all season. I’ve also had multiple Big Seven coaches email and text me. People outside the community were cheering for us. The Holton girls volleyball team was in the stands watching us. It was awesome to have that support.”
Armstrong said the Big Seven League is competitive with three schools – RV, Holton and Nemaha Central – all reaching the state tournament.
“We all secretly want each other to fail when we play each other, but we, as a league, like to send representation to state. We want people to know how tough the Big Seven is, and we push each other to be better,” he said.
The Panthers were the top ranked team all season by the Kansas Volleyball Association,
“We were ranked first last year, and we did feel some pressure. It didn’t end well,” he said. “Coming into this year, we weren’t going to let that ranking affect us. We knew that number one didn’t mean anything so we had to take one game at a time. One foot in front of the other and that’s what they did.”
Armstrong said the team’s chemistry is due to the fact that they’ve played volleyball together for many years.
“A lot of these girls have been playing club volleyball together since they little so they’ve grown up playing together,” he said. “They can read each other and know what each other is capable of and how to cover each other,” he said. “You can see that bond. I knew it was only a matter of time before they did something special.”
Ogden, the team’s libero, and junior hitters Ivy Fink and Morgan Harvey were named to the Kansas Volleyball Association’s state all-tournament team.
Odgen and Maddie Saia are the only two seniors on the RV team.
“Maddie is a very positive, happy-go-lucky player,” Armstrong said. “Kenzie is a driving force. She wanted to win and would do whatever it took to get that ball up. She was all over the court. Our senior leadership was so good.”
The Panthers won 25 consecutive matches to start the season. They ended their season 39-6 overall.
Class 3A State Scores
Cheney def. Phillipsburg: 25-21, 11-25 and 27-25.
Beloit def. Burlington: 25-14 and 25-15.
Cheney def. Burlington: 25-14 and 25-13.
Beloit def. Phillipsburg: 25-12 and 25-23.
Phillipsburg def. Burlington: 25-15 and 25-21.
Beloit def. Cheney: 25-18 and 25-23.
RV def. Silver Lake: 25-23 and 25-21.
Nemaha Central def. Frontenac: 31-29 and 25-20.
RV def. Nemaha Central: 23-25, 25-17 and 25-18.
Silver Lake def. Frontenac: 25-18, 22-25 and 25-5.
Silver Lake def. Nemaha Central: 25-23 and 25-20.
RV def. Frontenac: 25-16 and 25-10.
RV def. Cheney: 25-17 and 25-17.
Beloit def. Silver Lake: 25-20, 19-25 and 25-21.
RV def. Beloit: 25-19 and 25-18.
Silver Lake def. Cheney: 25-22 and 25-21.