2017-11-09 / Sports

Panthers Take Down Defending District Champs Raiders

By Jacob A. Ball


The 2017 Class D District Champion Pickford Panthers volleyball team (back, from left) Taylor Opolka, Briana Portice, Kaylee Weihman, Head Coach Barb Storey, Darcy Bennin, Brooklyn Umbarger, Tori Thurmes; (front) Hannah Marble, Carley Cottle, Bailee Stec, and Natalie Miller. After winning the districts, the Panthers faced Pellston at Brimley High School in the regional semifinals Tuesday, November 7. The 2017 Class D District Champion Pickford Panthers volleyball team (back, from left) Taylor Opolka, Briana Portice, Kaylee Weihman, Head Coach Barb Storey, Darcy Bennin, Brooklyn Umbarger, Tori Thurmes; (front) Hannah Marble, Carley Cottle, Bailee Stec, and Natalie Miller. After winning the districts, the Panthers faced Pellston at Brimley High School in the regional semifinals Tuesday, November 7. As the district volleyball finals began Thursday night, November 2, both the Pickford Panthers and the DeTour Raiders looked ready to take home the trophy. Pickford had just won a five-set epic against a skillful Maplewood Baptist team the night before, and DeTour was hoping for a third consecutive championship. Concerns about stamina and intensity were quickly put to rest as both teams showed their quality early and often. The first set proved to be decisive, as Pickford’s narrow victory, 30-28, boosted their confidence while draining their opponent’s. In the first set, DeTour appeared to have the right strategy to defeat a Pickford squad that aggressively attacks the net on offense and defense. Pickford kept their composure, though, and before long was dictating their style on the match. After a defeat in the first set, a talented DeTour squad’s confidence seemed to dwindle, and Pickford capitalized to take the district championship in straight sets, 30-28, 25-14, and 25-13.

During the first set, DeTour’s sharpness was rewarded with an early 7-4 lead after a block from Pickford’s Darcy Bennin was nulli fied for reaching over the net. Soon enough Pickford’s hitting was showing its power, and after two big blocks from Bennin the Raiders’ lead had shrunk to a single point, 9-8. De- Tour continued to battle, extending their lead 15-10. Recognizing the importance of the first set, the Panthers clawed their way back in once more. With the lead cut to three points Pickford senior Taylor Opolka placed a serve into the far right corner of the court for a quick point. The Panthers’ Briana Portice then followed this with a kill into the same spot on the left of DeTour’s side.

With the Raiders’ lead cut to one point, 17-16, their dominance was fading. Within only two possessions the Panthers had taken the lead, as Opolka found her form from the serving line. She rattled off seven straight points before DeTour could score a point and regain possession. At this moment with the score 22-17 in Pickford’s favor it looked as if the first set was almost complete. De- Tour regained their focus, however, to score four straight. With the score soon tied 23-23 there was no telling what would happen.

The score was tied at 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28 points with neither team able to grab the decisive second point. Tied at 25, Bennin drilled a powerful spike over the net and immediately to the floor. DeTour senior Hallie Grzesiek answered right back with a soft arcing shot over the blockers. They were still knotted up with 27 points each when a missed spike from Opolka gave DeTour the lead, but she came right back with confidence as she drilled her next opportunity over the net, following up with a block to take the lead for Pickford. An ace made the score 30-28, ending the first set.

The importance of the first set was apparent for the remainder of the game. Pickford jumped out in the second set to a 13-2 lead with contributions from Carley Cottle and Natalie Miller making the difference early on. Cottle completed a powerful spike to hold the 11-point advantage, and Miller scored multiple aces early from the serve. DeTour tried hard to find their way back into the game, but the deficit was too much to overcome. A perfect spike from right to left across the court by De- Tour’s Skylar Pardee, and two aces from Grzesiek narrowed the lead to single digits momentarily, 23-14. Pickford would not relent, and Cottle closed out the set to give her team a two-set advantage in the title game.

The third set began with more promise for the Raiders, including good serves from Alora Barbeaux, and additional contributions from Grzesiek. A 5-2 Raiders lead quickly led to another tie at seven points. Opolka’s serving skill was essential to closing out the third and final set of the game. Tied 7-7, she maintained her serve for eight straight points for a 15-7 takeover. Once the third set was complete with a score of 25-13, the Panthers had sealed their championship.

Pickford head Coach Barb Storey said it was a very exciting win, and after playing two games earlier in the week to get to the championship she was very proud of her team’s determination. She added that senior Kayla Weihman showed good leadership throughout the tournament.

“She’s a constant, she’s the excitement, she’s the spark,” her coach said.

On the other side, DeTour head Coach Sara Galarowic identified the loss of the first set as the decisive moment for her team. She added that perhaps the game would have still gone to five sets, but “losing it the way we did, that kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

Coach Galarowic commended the Panthers for their victory, and wished them luck at regionals. She now is looking forward to next season, and believes another playoff run is on the way for the DeTour Raiders.

Pickford played Pellston in a regional semifinal matchup at Brimley High School Tuesday, November 7. The winner will return to Brimley Thursday, November 9, to face the winner of Rudyard against Wolverine for the regional championship.

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