The Powell Lady Panthers volleyball team needed two weekend wins at the Class 3A West regional in Mountain View to earn a berth in the state tournament in Casper.
The Lady Panthers did that one better, shaking off a semifinal loss to host Mountain View to finish third at the regional tournament.
“It was kind of surreal knowing we finally made it to state,” PHS coach Randi Bonander said. “I think that is always a coach’s goal, but for me, it was getting the team to state. They deserve it after all the hard work they have put in this season and over their careers.”
Powell downed Big Piney 25-7, 25-7, 25-15 in Friday’s opener, then fell to Mountain View 25-20, 25-23, 17-25, 25-23 that evening to drop into the consolation bracket.
With their season on the line Saturday, the Lady Panthers took on Worland and came away with a 25-14, 25-18, 25-18 win to earn a state tournament berth and the chance to play for bronze. In that match, Powell rallied to down Lander 25-18, 20-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-10 for third place.
The Lady Panthers will open play at the WHSAA Class 3A State Volleyball Championships Thursday afternoon with a 3 p.m. contest against Douglas.
“We are looking forward to meeting up with Douglas again,” coach Bonander said. “We played them early in the season at the Rawlins tournament and beat them. We will stay focused this week on improving our game and making sure we know how to adjust to their hard hitters and blockers.”
Powell 3, Big Piney 0
In their regional opener, the Lady Panthers dominated from the start and were never seriously challenged by the winless Lady Punchers.
“We played with so much enthusiasm against Big Piney,” coach Bonander said. “All the girls had great games and this allowed me to get everyone in the match at some point.”
After falling behind 2-1 in the opening set, Powell ran off 12 points in a row, including three kills from Jazlyn Haney, to take firm command of the set and the match.
In the third set, Big Piney started to show some life, trailing just 12-9 at one point in the set. However, five straight points — highlighted by the serving of Ashtyn Heny and a kill from Aubrie Stenerson — gave the Lady Panthers some breathing room and needed momentum to close out the set.
Powell served 11 aces in the match, led by four from Heny and two apiece from Haney, Gabi Metzler and Hartly Thorington. Stenerson had nine kills and 13 digs, while Thorington added seven kills. Metzler had 15 assists and Natalie Ostermiller added eight.
Mountain View 3, Powell 1
With a chance to not only earn a berth in the state tournament, but also a shot at the regional title, the Lady Panthers instead suffered a double dose of heartbreak in the regional semifinals.
After dropping the first set, Powell took a 21-15 lead in the second on a block by Rachel Bonander and Sabrina Shoopman. PHS seemed on its way to tying the match, but the host Lady Buffalos closed the set on a 10-2 run to complete the rally and take a 2-0 lead.
“We knew it would be [a tough game] and we had changed the lineup to utilize Rachel [Bonander] as a middle hitter/blocker and Devon [Curtis] as a right side hitter/blocker,” coach Bonander said. “We did a nice job adjusting to their hitters going line, tipping deep and hitting angle. Their defense is really strong and we had a difficult time breaking it down. We did do just that at times when we hit hard, but they were able to keep rallies going when we tried to tip, or our hitter coverage wasn’t quite where it needed to be. The girls did well trying to adjust to this. The hometown crowd made it difficult for the girls to hear each other, which caused confusion at times.”
The Lady Panthers led 18-13 at one point in the fourth set — and even took a 20-19 lead later — but once again fell victim to another Mountain View rally.
Thorington led the way with 13 kills, while Rachel Bonander added 11; Stenerson had nine and Haney finished with seven. Metzler had two aces and 17 assists, while Ostermiller added 16 assists. Stenerson led the defense with 27 digs, while Heny had 14 and the duo of Ostermiller and Thorington each finished with 13.
“Overall as a team, this was the best match we have played to this date,” coach Bonander said. “But it just wasn’t enough to claim the win.”
Powell 3, Worland 0
With the loss to the hosts, the Lady Panthers faced quadrant rival Worland in a heartbreak round matchup — the winner earned a state tournament berth, while the loser’s season would end.
With their backs to the wall, Powell came through when it counted, sweeping the Lady Warriors to earn a state berth and a shot at third place in the regional.
“Saturday morning, the girls came back with a presence on the court and a fire in their eyes,” coach Bonander said. “They were more intense, adjusted to mistakes quicker but definitely knew what was on the line and took care of business.”
Trailing 4-3 early in the first set, the Lady Panthers got a kill from Thorington to tie the match, then added four straight points where Rachel Bonander either recorded a block or a kill to take the lead.
Powell raced out to a 7-1 lead in the second set after a Thorington kill. The Lady Warriors rallied to get within one (18-17) late in the match, but the Lady Panthers ran off six consecutive points to retake the momentum and eventually take the set.
The third set was also nip-and-tuck, but back-to-back kills by Rachel Bonander and Stenerson gave Powell a 21-16 lead, while another Rachel Bonander kill made it 23-16 and gave the Lady Panthers the bump they needed to close the set and earn a state tournament berth.
Thorington had another huge match with four aces, six kills and three total blocks. Rachel Bonander led the attack with 11 kills, while Stenerson added seven. Haney and Rachel Bonander each had five total blocks, while Curtis added four. Stenerson and Metzler had 11 digs apiece, while Metzler also had 14 assists.
Powell 3, Lander 2
With a state tournament berth in the bag, the Lady Panthers still had some resiliency left in the tank against Lander, rallying from a six-point deficit in the fourth set to tie the match, then playing strong in the fifth set to take third place and earn a higher seed at the state tournament.
“Lander was still on a high even though they had already played two matches that day, so I knew we couldn’t overlook them,” coach Bonander said. “The girls went into this match struggling to make adjustments on defense and serve receive, which caused us to go five sets. When they finally realized they had nothing to lose because we were already going to state, they relaxed, had fun and played our game.”
In that fourth set, Powell trailed 20-14 after Abigail Renner recorded a block and kill for the Lady Tigers, and trailed 23-19 as Lander was looking to close out the match.
However, with the match on the line, the Lady Panthers rode the serving of Heny to six points in a row to take the set and even things up at 2-2.
In the final set, a Rachel Bonander kill made it 8-5, and she and Curtis recorded back-to-back kills later in the set to make it 11-7 as Powell eventually won the set and the match.
Thorington led the Powell attack with 13 kills, while Rachel Bonander added 12, Haney added 11 and Curtis finished with seven. Thorington added a pair of aces, while Metzler had 18 assists and Ostermiller had 14.
Stenerson had 37 digs to lead the Lady Panthers’ defense, while Heny added 21; Metzler and Thorington had 18 each and Ostermiller finished with 10.