JAMESTOWN – While it may not be fair to the competition, the simple fact is that the overall Section VI Class C girls final the last two years could have been considered an unofficial state title match.
That’s because the survivor of the Eden-versus-Portville clash has gone on to crush the rest of the playoff field at the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Tournament.
Will the trend continue this year? Who knows? One thing is certain. Defending state champion Portville still looks the part of scary good.
For the second straight season, the Panthers got the better of Eden in a win-or-go-home postseason meeting between the heavyweights. After being pushed in the first set, Portville raised its game to another level and cruised to a 26-24, 25-13, 25-15 triumph at Jamestown Community College on Tuesday night.
In this match between schools that have won a combined 18 state championships, senior Beth Miller recorded 15 kills and eight digs for the Panthers (37-3), while freshman teammate Kylie Blessing finished with 29 assists, nine service points, three aces and four kills.
Last season, Portville ended Eden’s eight-year as a state champion in the overall Class C final with a 25-21, 25-18, 25-21 victory. Two years ago, the Raiders defeated Portville in four sets to prevent the Panthers from advancing after they had won back-to-back state titles in Class D.
“If you can get by Eden, which is a power, you think you can almost do anything,” said winning coach Kelly Unverdorben of a Raiders program that has won 14 state titles in its history.
Portville tries to win on back-to-back nights as it returns to action at 7 p.m. today at Daemen College in a sub-regional match against Section III champion Skaneateles. The winner advances to Saturday’s state quarterfinals.
In the second match of the championship twin bill, last year's state runner-up Panama rallied from a two-set-to-none deficit to advance to its third straight state tournament. The D-2 champion Panthers defeated Class D-1 champ Chautauqua Lake, 21-25, 25-27, 25-20, 25-20, 25-20.
Portville advanced by riding the momentum garnered from winning a wildly entertaining first set. Neither team led by more than four points with Eden rallying from 24-22 down to extend the set on kills by Paiton Basinski and Kaitlin Schmitz. Miller followed that with a kill to give the Panthers a set point. They cashed in on that when Blessing, who looked like she was going to pass it to a teammate, deftly tapped the ball over the net into an open spot.
“I think in the first set we were just trying to fight super hard and make a statement every play,” said Miller, who has been on Portville teams that have won state titles thrice (2014 and 15 in Class D, 2017 in Class C) the last four seasons. “We wanted to get our energy up and keep it up and I think that’s what we did through the second and third sets.”
In the second set, the Panthers won the first five points and led by as much as 10 the rest of the way.
Eden struggled to play with the sharpness and skill it displayed in the first set – perhaps a sign of its youth compared to a Portville team featuring several players with state championship-tournament experience.
“Your momentum goes down after that first set,” second-year Eden coach Hailee Herc said. “First set our service game was really good ... and then the second set our service game dropped.
“They’re an athletic team. They play really well. We’re very young. ... We’re still learning things.”
Senior Sierra Keim had eight digs, seven kills and two aces for Portville, while classmate Ericka Carlson added 13 digs and senior Sydney Colligan 10.
In the overall Class D final, Natalie Angeletti came up huge for Panama with the fifth set hanging in the balance. She came through with a kill to tie the set 14-14. That was the final time the fifth set was tied as her kill sparked a 6-0 run. Still, the Thunderbirds pulled within two and one point. Each time Angeletti blunted their momentum by delivering a kill.
Angeletti finished with 14 kills and 14 digs, while teammate Madalyn Bowen added 15 kills and 26 digs.