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Panama caps off perfect season with thrilling state title win

By Diana C. Nearhos
Special to The News

GLENS FALLS — As Panama closed in on a state championship, Madalyn Bowen leaned into her setter and told Quinn Payne to set up Tara Sweeney. She didn’t care where the ball was on the court, the set had to go to Sweeney.

Bowen is the go-to player on that team, and for good reason with 33 kills in the Class D state volleyball final, but she wanted the Panthers’ only senior to have the final hit. So, Payne set Sweeney and set Sweeney and set Sweeney — all on the same play.

Argyle outside hitter Danielle Sill kept getting the block and finally, after the volley had seemed to go on for a minute, she got a block down. So, on the next play, Payne set Sweeney again. Sweeney and Sill had a shorter back-and-forth and then Sweeney finally got one down. But even as she hit the ball the final time, Sweeney wasn’t sure if it was coming back again.

“I hit the one and they got it, then I hit again and I thought this may be it,” Sweeney said after Sunday’s 3-2 win over Argyle (17-25, 26-24, 24-26, 25-13, 25-14). “It came back over and dropped out of bounds. I couldn’t believe we just did it.”

Even though Panama swept them in the semifinal pool play (25-16, 25-16), the Panthers struggled to put away the Scots through the first three sets. Argyle kept coming back. It came from behind to win the first and third sets and almost did it in the second. Finally, Panama established itself in the fourth.

Coach Tammy Hoiser was just happy to see the Panthers start playing their game, swinging hard and making Argyle’s passers work. The first comeback got to Panama. The team that usually plays as a close-knit unit started to panic and pick at each other.

“I just used that (after Argyle came back to win the third set, 26-24),” she said. “I said, ‘You see how you play when you’re in panic mode. We can’t do that.’ ”

Instead of “Team: Together Everyone Achieves More,” Hoiser turned to “start strong, stay strong, finish strong” as the motto of the day. Slogans have had extra significance for the Panthers. They aren’t just rotely called out in a huddle.

Bowen said their call of “Whose game is it? Our game” coming out of the huddle resonates with her. The Panthers started that one in the playoffs and she finds it helps her settle before matches.

Argyle coach Peggy Seese pointed out that Section VI always sends strong teams — especially in Class D, where seven of the last 12 champions have come from the Western New York region — so she wasn’t surprised by Panama’s strength. There’s a reason the Panthers were undefeated, she said.

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