By Dave Ricci
Spacial to The News
It was a great day to be a Panther.
Portville and Panama, which both go by the Panther nickname, officially punched their tickets to states when they captured Far West Regional titles during a girls volleyball tripleheader at Daemen College on Friday.
Both teams will now advance to the NYSPHSAA tournament that will take place in Glens Falls, Nov. 18-19.
For Panama, it was the motto of “We Over Me” that helped the defending Class D state champions secure their second straight regional title as they defeated Section V Charles Finney in four games.
“I think this year (it) was pretty big,” said junior Madalyn Bowen, who had 14 kills and 14 digs.
“We’ve always been unselfish as a team and volleyball is a team sport. So we have to do things for ourselves as a team.”
Panama took game one by a 25-22 score, and Finney answered back with a matching 25-22 victory in the second game.
Natalie Angeletti (14 kills and 11 digs) was another key factor in Panama’s balanced attack, as they took the next two games, 25-15 and 25-14.
Returning all but one girl from last year’s state championship squad, the first state title in school history, the Panthers obviously came in with the goal of repeating. But it has been their one-step-at-a-time mentality that has helped them get to the doorstep of another title.
“This has been our ultimate goal, but we don’t really talk about it. We rarely talk about it because obviously it’s one game at a time,” Panama coach Tammy Hosier said.
“Today I say ‘hey listen, this is the game we can talk.’ This is the game to get us to states and they were determined. It was a little rough there for a few moments, but they pulled it off.”
Hosier had to do some crafty subbing of players during the final set because starting libero Maci Johnson (11 digs) had to exit after game three due to a stomach illness.
Quinn Payne kept the offense humming as she notched 32 assists for Panama.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Hosier said.
“Our motto is ‘We Over Me’ and we keep reinforcing that. When they start to get down or start to fall apart that’s what we keep talking about. The teamwork. Everybody has roles. We have to keep doing that or else we won’t be achieving that next goal.”
In Class C, Portville coach Kelly Unverdorben had been asking her girls when were they going to peak. They’ve responded in a big way this week, as they defeated Section V LeRoy in three straight games.
“It’s funny because I was concerned midseason til the end of the season, oh my team has not peaked yet. And I was getting a little nervous,” Kelly Unverdorben said with a smile.
“The other night when we beat Eden (in the sectional finals) they asked ‘did we peak, coach?’ Yes, you did. They’re playing great right now. I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them.”
Winning by scores of 25-17, 25-23 and 25-9, the Panthers’ victory was so decisive that not only did they win in three, they never trailed at any point during the match.
Setter Haley Unverdorben (29 assists) ran the offense with pinpoint accuracy as she distributed the ball to key hitters like Sierra Keim (11 kills and three aces) and Beth Miller, who had an outstanding all-around game with the 15 kills, eight aces and four blocks.
“It felt really, really, really good!” Haley Unverdorben said of raising the championship plaque.
Winning states in 2015 and 2014, the Portville Panthers have been motivated by the loss to Eden in last season’s Section VI title game.
“We didn’t want that feeling again and we knew that we could do it,” Beth Miller said.
“We had confidence in ourselves. We knew that we could come back and do it.”
In Class B, East Aurora reached the end of the road as they fell in four games to Section III’s Cazenovia.
The Blue Devils got the “W” in a wild 27-25 opening game, but the next three games belonged to the Lakers as they scored wins of 25-13, 25-22 and 25-20. The Blue Devils weren’t overmatched by any means, but there were crucial moments when the score was close in games three and four, and the finesse play of the Lakers by the net made the difference. Their quick soft-touch tip balls over the net found open space on the floor.
“They were burning us on those tips,” East Aurora coach Rebecca Jacobs said.
“So it seems like they had tip after tip. For some reason our girls, we didn’t adjust in time, and that kind of showed in the scores.”
Maddie McLaughlin and Olivia Covington had eight kills each for East Aurora.
Ryleigh Tilison had 12 kills for Cazenovia.