Defending the home court against a talented opponent is one thing. Doing so without your starting setter is quite another.
Opening at home against a tough Bayfield Bobcats squad on Sept. 3, the Montezuma-Cortez High School Panthers volleyball team battled hard before eventually falling in five sets. Missing sophomore setter Laurel Chappell who injured her ankle during warm-ups, the Panthers fell to 1-1 on the season while the Bobcats improved to 2-0.
Looking to open the home-season with a bang, the Panthers came out swinging. Early on, it was the Bobcats who dictated play, however. Utilizing a combination of strong serving by Maddi Foutz and impressive hitting by Kirstie Hillyer, the Bobcats jumped out to an early 4-0 lead.
After a series of back-and-forth points, the Panthers began to gain momentum, tying the set at 8, following an offensive tip by Beth Brown and impressive serving by junior, Naomi Pennecoose.
The Panthers’ momentum was quickly stymied, however, and on the strength of solid play by the Bobcats’ middle hitters, Bayfield jumped to a 22-16 lead.
Refusing to relinquish the first set without a fight, however, the Panthers went on a 9-0 run, punctuated by a Pennecoose spike down the right side, to secured a 25-22 first-set victory.
Describing how the Panthers won the first set, senior Mikkel Waltman stated, “We had really excellent passing. Energy-wise, we were just up and excited. It really took a lot out of the other team.”
Building on the energy generated by their first-set victory, the Panthers jumped out to an early second-set lead. After Bayfield fought back to tie things at 8, the Panthers built a lead of 18-12 on the strength of Waltman’s strong defense and Pennecoose’s fine hitting.
After a Bobcat run, capped off by a huge block from Hillyer, cut the Panthers lead to 21-18, the Panthers hung tough. Weathering the storm created by several consecutive spikes by Hillyer, the Panthers eventually won the set, 25-23, on a strong serve by Brown.
“We work on serving a lot in practice,” said Brown, speaking about her solid serving throughout the match. “I also play two seasons a year, so that’s a lot of serving.”
Hoping to close things out in the third set, the Panthers fell behind early and could never recover. After pulling within four points at 10-14, a spate of bad passing put the Panthers in a 16-21 hole. Although Cortez was able to claw back to 20-23 following a series of spikes by Pennecoose and a block by Waltman, the Bobcats won the set 25-21 following a spike down the left side by Hillyer.
“We gave them some points on our mistakes,” said Waltman, describing the third set. “That shouldn’t have happened.”
Refusing to give in after their third-set miscues, the Panthers came out strong in the 4th set, matching a fired up Bobcats’ squad shot for shot. After Brown energized the Panthers with a series of serves and spikes, the score stood at 22-22.
At that point, Hillyer took over, utilizing her 6’5” frame to dictate play around the net. After multiple back and forth points, Hillyer finished the things off, sending a vicious spike down the middle for a 27-25 4th set victory.
“Bayfield did a better job of using their middle (hitter) the last two sets,” said Panthers’ head coach, Barbara Chappell, describing Hillyer’s impact on the match.
Clearly rattled going into the fifth set, the Panthers were unable to match the Bobcats’ energy, eventually falling by a score of 6-15.
Leading scorers for the Panthers included Pennecoose, who recorded 29 kills and 26 digs, and Brown, who recorded 18 kills and 22 digs.
Discussing her team’s overall performance, Chappell stated, “It’s super hard when you put in a new setter. With (Waltman) not being in that role a lot, we had to change. My girls are fighters though. They played well.”
Looking to push their season record above .500, the Panthers return to action Sept. 7 at home in the Cortez Tournament.