Panther volleyball comes close, but can't escape Thunder in key league matches
With the Panthers hosting their first home matches of the volleyball season on Tuesday, there was already a great deal of excitement leading up to the night’s action. The fact that RVHS was doing so against perennial Big Seven League contender Nemaha Central only added to the hype.
Both Royal Valley and the Thunder of Nemaha Central didn’t disappoint in a pair of tight matches. In the end, NCHS did just enough to edge the Panthers and pull off the sweep on the road.
Starting off the night, RV coach Denise Visocsky noted her team struggled setting up the offense right out of the gate. Unable to get key hitter Anna Johnson involved in the attack, the Panthers struggled to generate any rhythm, dropping the first match 18-25 and 21-25.
“We struggled passing on the back row a lot off of serve/receive, so we couldn’t quite get things going,” Visocsky said.
Despite coming out strong, the Panthers lost their focus somewhere along the way and after that, little mistakes kept piling up on RVHS and allowed Nemaha to pull away for the victory.
As tight as the first match was, there was even less separation between the two teams in the final match of the night, which again went to Nemaha Central (25-23 and 25-23). The Panthers jumped out to a slim lead and it looked like two early aces by Josie Matsapto might be the difference in the first set.
The Thunder never went away, though, and their defense, especially at the net, gave Royal Valley fits throughout Tuesday’s matches.
“Nemaha’s always been good at coverage, block coverage especially, and that’s our bread and butter right now. We block the ball extremely well and get tons of touches, so to have a team come back again and again and again, it was hard to get our girls to keep fighting and keep going for every single point,” Visocsky said.
Following Matsapto’s aces, Erica Pruyser had a key dump halfway through the set that put Royal Valley up by four and Macy Putnam came through with her own ace late that gave RV a 23-20 advantage. However, Nemaha managed to take its first lead since 2-1 a little while later and scored the final five points to win the first set.
In the second set of the final match, it was the Thunder who took the early lead this time and quickly built up a five-point advantage, but errors left the door open for Royal Valley to make a comeback.
That the Panthers did, as Johnson came up with a big block to give the team its first lead of the set, 15-14, though it was short-lived. Some defensive lapses gave the lead right back to the Thunder, and that’s something Royal Valley is continuing to work on this season.
Visocsky noted she has been giving some younger players a chance to step up and contribute in those efforts and they did on Tuesday, with Matsapto tallying nine digs on top of her two aces. Danielle Stithem was also strong in limited action in the second set.
With those young players stepping up, Visocsky said she is hoping some of the veterans will follow suit. One player she knows she doesn’t have to worry about is Macy Putnam, who had a strong overall performance against Nemaha Central with four kills and five digs in that final match.
Putnam is taking on a lot for the Panthers and she has done a lot all over the court, though Visocsky noted she doesn’t have to overburden herself.
“Macy’s done a great job for us and I think sometimes Macy overdoes it a little bit because she knows that we’re so inexperienced in the back row, so she has to get more comfortable trusting her teammates,” Visocsky said.
Teammates like Ali Bryan and Kate Hanson helped the Panthers hang around late, with an ace and a block, respectively, but the Thunder held on in the end to complete the sweep.
Neither loss was easy, but Visocsky said she hopes her team learns from both matches moving forward as league competition will only get tougher.
“Hopefully we’ll learn from the mistakes we did make and refocus and regroup for next week against Jeff West because they’re just as tough,” Visocsky said. “It’s going to be a tough league this year and every team, every night’s going to be tough. I just hope that they can learn and go back out and battle every night.”
Royal Valley (5-4) will face off against Jeff West starting at 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Sept. 8, 2015
Nemaha Central def. Royal Valley: 25-18 and 25-21
Nemaha Central def. Royal Valley: 25-23 and 25-23
Over the holiday weekend, the RVHS volleyball team squeezed in even more competition as the team headed to Meriden for the Jeff West Invitational.
The Panthers had their hands full in a tough tournament, but emerged with a winning record, though due to tiebreakers the team ended up taking fourth.
Royal Valley started with a tough match against host Jeff West that went three sets, with all the sets combined decided by a total of seven points.
Then, Visocsky noted her team let a match slip away against Santa Fe Trail. That also went three sets, but the Panthers came out on the losing end because of some offensive inconsistencies.
“We struggled there. We weren’t hitting as well. We weren’t mixing it up as well as what we should have,” Visocsky said.
After facing and defeating Oskaloosa, the Panthers were ready to take on a tough Valley Falls squad. While the Dragons had some good hitters, Visocsky noted her team’s strength in the middle helped negate that and allow RVHS to come away with the win.
“We put up a lot of blocks against Valley and that made the big difference there,” Visocsky said.
Finally, Royal Valley closed out the tournament against Silver Lake. Visocsky noted the team was starting to feel the effects of the tournament at that point (i.e. fatigue), which did not help going up a perennial state contender like the Eagles.
Because of that, Visocsky said she and her players are already hoping for a rematch against the team in its home tournament later in the season.
Despite some ups and downs, the Panthers held their own quite well and Visocsky said there were some key lessons to learn from that tournament.
“Overall, I thought Saturday went really well. They showed that they could fight there. They can dig deep and go get it, we just have to focus into it,” Visocsky said.
Sept. 5, 2015
Royal Valley def. Jeff West: 26-28, 28-26 and 25-22
Santa Fe Trail def. Royal Valley: 18-25, 25-21 and 25-22
Royal Valley def. Oskaloosa: 25-19 and 25-17
Royal Valley def. Valley Falls: 23-25, 25-23 and 27-25
Silver Lake def. Royal Valley: 25-14 and 25-13