PANAMA - Coach Deb Palmer's Panama Lady Panthers have been a streaky group over the first six games of their volleyball season.
"It's been a kind of interesting season," Palmer said, "because we either win three in a row or lose three in a row."
After winning each of their first two contests - the opener over Sherman and then the next against Westfield - the Lady Panthers fell on hard times over the next three, dropping matches to Chautauqua Lake, Southwestern and Forestville.
Above, Panama’s Crystal Swanson, right, and Maple Grove’s Nicole Hemminger meet at the net during Tuesday’s Division 3 volleyball match.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
But a victory over Pine Valley on Thursday signaled that they may have been headed back on the upswing and, judging by their performance on Tuesday, that's exactly where they seem to be.
Picking up a seven-point win in the first set, 25-18, Panama used solid passing, strong outside hitting and a tough blocking game at the net to roll by visiting Maple Grove in the next two games, 25-9 and 25-10, to win their second straight Division 3 match and improve to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in league.
Brittany Lenart, the Lady Panthers' outside hitter, led the way with 10 kills, seven points and an ace while teammate Cora Monroy, a middle hitter and middle blocker, added eight kills and four blocks in the winning effort.
Together Monroy, and fellow middle blockers Crystal Swanson (five kills) and Naomi Kenny (two blocks), combined for nine total blocks and limited Maple Grove (2-7, 2-5) to just four total kills.
"The kids are working hard," Palmer said. "I'm pleased. They're working hard and they're trying to do things right, and as a coach that's all you can ask. I'm actually very happy with where they're at right now."
A late surge in the first set was enough to swing the momentum Panama's way the rest of the match.
The two squads were knotted at 11 when Carly Abbate stepped to the service line. On her first serve she recorded an ace, on the next Maple Grove's Taylor Satalino, who led the Lady Red Dragons with 16 digs and two kills, attempted a tip, but the ball didn't have quite enough to clear the net. Abbate served one more ace and the score was 14-12.
Maple Grove's ensuing serve sailed wide and out of bounds, giving the ball to Panama's Crystal Swanson, who recorded four more points - thanks in part to a pair of blocks from Monroy - to increase the advantage to 19-12.
The Lady Red Dragons managed to cut the deficit to five, 21-16, but another unforced error, the team's sixth of the set, allowed Panama to reel off four straight points (two aces from Swanson, a combined block by Kenny and Abbate and a kill) to capture the game one victory.
Down a match, Maple Grove struggled to regain its footing in the second as Alli Strickland reeled off nine straight service points on the way to the Lady Panthers building an insurmountable 17-3 lead.
"Honestly, when they play they play well," Maple Grove coach Amanda Reese said. "I think their biggest problem is believing in themselves - knowing that they can do it, knowing that they can push ahead and knowing that they can play with (teams like Panama). I think it's just confidence more than anything, because the ability is there.
"They played really well in the first set, and then they went down a few (points)," Reese continued. "They just need to believe that it's OK to go down a few and that they can come back. We're working on that, but it's hard to overcome."
Still working on, as Reese put it, the "psychological" aspect of their game, Maple Grove once again fell behind early, 9-3 and then, behind Kalli Davenport's five straight points, 15-5, on the way to suffering a game three, and match, loss.
Along with Satalino, Nickara Liddell chipped in with 14 digs, two blocks and a kill and Nicolette Anderson had 11 digs.
Panama, looking to make it three in a row, will host Westfield while Maple Grove will welcome visiting Pine Valley. Both matches are slated to begin at 6 p.m., on Thursday.