North Collins Tops Panama For Class D Crown
NORTH COLLINS — The Panthers are no longer on top of the Section VI Class D volleyball mountain.
The Eagles have landed.
Powered by seniors Deanne Wilson and Makenna Williams, North Collins swept four-time defending champion Panama 25-16, 25-23, 25-20 for the program’s first overall Class D title since 1987 on Saturday afternoon at North Collins Jr.-Sr. High School.
“Since seventh grade we were trying to beat them. Every year we’d go to JCC and end up winning a set, losing a set … it was always back and forth,” Wilson said. “I’m just proud of us this year that we pulled through and finally beat them.”
Wilson finished with 20 kills and three aces while Williams had 30 assists to go along with three aces of her own as the Eagles led for nearly the entire day.
“It’s been our goal from the beginning of the year. We keep coming back to Panama,” North Collins coach Dave Burgstahler said. “We’ve had our highs and lows with them. … We tried our best all season to prepare for them and I think we did a good job.”
For the Panthers, who had reached the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Final Four in Glens Falls in each of the past four seasons, sophomore Jo Bailey had five kills, four blocks and three aces while senior Ashlyn Harvey added five blocks and 10 digs.
“We did not play well today. Our serve-receive was not good. We weren’t getting our sets where we wanted,” Panama coach Tammy Hosier said.
” … If we played like we did on Thursday night against Chautauqua Lake, I don’t know that it would have been a different outcome,” Hosier added, “but I’m pretty sure we would’ve been able to take a game.”
Although the score of Saturday’s first game was the most lopsided, it actually took North Collins longer to take the lead than in the final two games.
Panama led by as many as three at 8-5 and as late as 8-7 before Wilson ran off a string of seven straight service points, including a pair of aces, to propel her team to a 13-8 advantage.
The Panthers got as close as five at 18-13 after back-to-back points keyed by a Mandy Brink dig and a block by Bailey, but Wilson took over down the stretch. Three kills in a five-point span made it 23-16 in favor of the Eagles before Williams served out the game.
“Deanne, the last time we won a blue patch, she was in sixth grade in the stands watching her sister get one. … She has shown so much growth as a player, not only physically, but mentally,” Burgstahler said. “Today, it was a true testament of that. Composure. Smart shots. Ultimate teammate. Cheering people on.”
Panama’s only lead in the second game came at 3-2 before a hitting error and a long spike gave the lead to North Collins. From there, the Eagles’ lead grew to as many as eight thanks to a run that included kills by Williams and Wilson as well as an ace down the line from Williams.
“She runs such a great offense. She just lives and dies for her team. She struggles because she wants to keep everybody involved. … Somehow she does it,” Burgstahler said of Williams. “The growth she has had running different types of sets and being a leader on the court is awesome.”
The Panthers began to close the gap midway through the game as Bailey followed her own kill with an ace to make it 19-16. Four North Collins service errors down the stretch allowed Panama to get within a point at 24-23 before another infraction gave the final point to the Eagles.
“The errors crept up. … We try to control it, but emotions can get the better of you,” Burgstahler said. “We had that happen today … but we lowered them, got our composure back and finished strong.”
Armed with a 2-0 lead, the coronation was beginning for North Collins.
The Panthers’ final lead of the afternoon was at 4-3 and the last time the teams were tied was 6-6 in the third game. The Eagles’ lead grew to as many as six on back-to-back kills by junior Michaela Rice to make it 17-11.
“Our plan was to keep them out of system and play our offense. We did that when we first started, then I think we started playing not to mistakes instead of playing to win,” Hosier said. “They’re good. The way they hit that ball, it’s kind of hard to practice that stuff.”
Panama held off a pair of match points late, but Williams finished the afternoon with her 30th assist and Rice’s last of eight kills began the long-awaited celebration for the Eagles.
“I’ve accepted coronavirus and it messing up everything,” Wilson said of the state tournament being canceled months ago. “This was the end goal. … We pulled through and did it.”
Unique to a COVID-19 world, North Collins earned home-court advantage for the final by completing a perfect 13-0 regular season. That did not keep the Eagles from the customary fire truck parade into town for a sectional champion. Following pictures and hugs with family and friends in the gym, the Eagles boarded a bus bound for the fire hall in the middle of town before a parade back to the school.
“There was a point where I thought we would never have a season. I knew what we had and I knew it was something special,” Burgstahler said. “I was just happy to have as season. … We really are just extremely happy for the opportunity.”
NOTES: North Collins won a Class D-2 title in 2014 before losing the crossover match to Portville. … Junior McKenna Rice chipped in five kills for the Eagles. … Maddie Johnson had 12 assists and five digs while Marra Hovey chipped in 12 digs and two aces for Panama. … Johnson, Hovey and Harvey played their final matches at Panama. “I couldn’t be more proud of how far they’ve come as individuals,” Hosier said. ” … They’ve grown so much. This team and how successful we have been this year is a testament to them.”