Panther volleyball ends historic season by claiming first ever state trophy
For a team playing in its first state tournament in program history, which spans 40 years, there were bound to be some jitters for the Royal Valley volleyball team over the weekend, especially when the Panthers found themselves playing for a third-place trophy.
That certainly could have added to the anxiety Royal Valley was feeling at the Class 4A-DII state tournament in Salina, but coach Denise Visocsky noted she tried her best to keep her team loose in order to play to its potential. Sometimes the right icebreaker can calm the nerves and Visocksy’s timing couldn’t have been better in the third-place match against Iola.
“I called a timeout and tried to get them relaxed a little bit and told them, ‘I know your fans all came to watch you play and your parents, but we really don’t have to make this go three’ and they all laughed about it,” Visocsky said. “To lighten the mood, it made a difference. They all went back out with a smile on and we came right back into the game.”
After that, Royal Valley went right ahead and closed out the match against Iola in straight sets (25-22, 25-22) to claim the first ever state trophy in program history.
“It was a really good feeling. It’s nothing I’ve every felt before,” senior Hannah Beam said.
“It’s a wonderful honor,” fellow senior Jaycee Worrell added. “I’ve never been to state, so it’s something I’ve never experienced and to do it in my very last year was the best feeling ever.”
The Panthers, a team Visocsky noted has not been particularly fond of morning matches this season, came out sluggish in a semifinal match against eventual state champion Clay Center to start bracket play on Saturday.
At one point, Royal Valley had five errors in a row in the first set of the day (and an error to end the match) as Clay Center pulled away for the 25-9, 25-18 victory to move onto the championship.
Visocksy said some of the same problems that plagued the Panthers in pool play reared their heads in the match with the Tigers as Royal Valley could not get into a rhythm on offense and was not playing to its strengths.
Going into the consolation final, Royal Valley focused on turning that around and it started to show early in the first set against Iola. After a block from Anna Johnson and back-to-back aces from Hannah Beam tied the game, the Panthers pulled ahead as they got going on the attack with Macy Putnam and Kate Hanson converting back-to-back kills to give RV a 12-10 lead.
The Panthers started to pull away from there as Visocsky said the attacks from middle hitters Hanson and Johnson opened up some things for Hannah and Sara Beam on the outside, which is when Royal Valley is at its best.
While Iola came back to tie the match at 16-16, Royal Valley got through on the strength of Hannah Beam’s third ace of the set before Johnson delivered a key kill late that cemented the return of the Panthers’ attack on the way to a first set victory.
“I feel like the more amped up we got, the more we figured out that we had this shot, we had this chance to get third and that’s never happened in our school, so I feel that really helped us move along to get the win,” Johnson said.
“I feel like that either we win together or we lose together and I felt like we all wanted to win, so I feel like we knew we had it. We worked so hard that I just feel like we deserved what we had,” Worrell added.
In the second set, Iola jumped out to a 6-1 lead before Visocsky took that crucial timeout. Sarah Beam then got in on the action as she had a key kill to keep the Panthers within one before Johnson started to take over towards the end of the match.
Johnons’s fifth block of the match tied things up at 16-16, while Erica Pruyser was in the midst of a five-point service streak that saw the Panthers take an 18-16 lead. Hannah Beam and Johnson then combined for a block (after a Beam kill) a little while later that put Royal Valley ahead 21-18.
From there, the ending was a little bit anticlimactic as some Iola errors locked up the Panthers’ third-place finish. A win is a win is a win, though, and as an Iola serve sailed long for the final point, the Panthers got to celebrate, even if there were some nerves to the very end.
“I thought that the line was really close, so I thought, ‘thank God it’s going out,’” Caitlin Burns said of watching that final serve.
With that final point, Royal Valley’s historic 2014 season came to a close, ending with the most wins in program history (26), the first state trophy and the first two state banners to hang in the RVHS gym, something Visocksy and her players said was a focal point of the weekend.
With the past struggles and lack of history with the sport at RVHS, Visocsky said she felt her players were very much attuned to what they were in the process of doing at the state tournament and it hit them right after the match with Iola.
“I think all of that compiled and it hit them hard as soon as that ball was served out of bounds and they were pumped,” Visocsky said. “I’m so proud of all of our kids that were here, all of our JV kids, too, for building such a great program this year and having success at every level.”
vs. Clay Center
Kills: Hanson 5, S. Beam 3, H. Beam 1, Johnson 1, Bryan 1.
Assists: Bryan 5, Pruyser 4.
Digs: H. Beam 8, Burns 8, Worrell 3, S. Beam 3, Putnam 3.
Blocks: Johnson 2, H. Beam 1, S. Beam 1.
Kills: S. Beam 5, H. Beam 3, Johnson 3, Hanson 3.
Assists: Bryan 9, Pruyser 9.
Digs: H. Beam 9, Worrell 6, Pruyser 6, Burns 5.
Blocks: Johnson 6, Burns 2, Putnam 2.