HUTCHINSON, Kan. - For a Royal Valley volleyball team that did not qualify for state a year ago, the Lady Panthers certainly looked like the dominant team at the Class 3A State Volleyball Championships at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. Nemaha Central was the only team to take Royal Valley three sets in the tournament, and Saturday morning the Lady Panthers bested No. 1 seed Beloit 25-19, 25-18 for the crown.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," said Royal Valley coach Gary Armstrong. "It's one of my many joys."
Playing as the No. 3 seed, Royal Valley opened pool play with a 2-set win over No. 6 Silver Lake. After a 3-set thriller against No. 7 Nemaha Valley, the Lady Panthers closed out pool play with a 25-16, 25-10 win over No. 2 Frontenac. Saturday morning, the girls defeated No. 4 Cheney 25-17, 25-17 to reach the finals.
Beloit entered the championship match with just three losses on the season. The day prior, the Lady Trojans mowed their way through Pool A with a trio of 2-set wins.
Beloit moved ahead 4-2 early on behind two big serves from senior Hanna Pearson. A stuff from senior Page Goddard helped the Lady Trojans to a 12-8 advantage.
But the Lady Panther hitters eventually made their way to the net. Junior Ivy Fink put down three kills to cut the deficit to 14-13, and Royal Valley took just its second lead of the match at 15-14 on a stuff from senior Madison Saia.
"It took a lot of experimenting to get the rotation we needed," Armstrong said. "We had one injury during the season and had so make some adjustments. When she was able to play, it solidified our rotation."
A battle ensued from there as Fink and Beloit senior Shea Larson went back and forth at the net. A defensive stuff from Fink gave the Lady Panthers the lead for good at 17-16.
Fink and Larson continued to battle up front early on in the second set. Fink put down a pair of kills and another stuff for a quick 3-0 lead. The duo combined for nine of the first 11 points in the match as Royal Valley established a 6-5 advantage.
The Lady Panthers began to pull away at 11-7 on a kill from junior Morgan Harvey. Beloit whittled the gap to 11-10 before Harvey put down another ball and freshman Kennedy Bryan followed with an ace and a big dig that led to another point.
The Royal Valley hitters were simply too much down the stretch. Two hits from Fink put the Panthers ahead 21-15, and Bryan had three kills late, including the final point to secure the state championship.
Consolation: Silver Lake def. Cheney 25-22, 25-21
Both sets of the consolation finals remained competitive for the duration. The score sat knotted at 11 midway through the first set. Silver Lake ultimately opened up a 17-13 lead and rode that to the first-set win.
Cheney again managed several leads in the second set, including a 7-6 score. The Eagles pulled ahead 12-8 only for the Cardinals to regain their final lead of the season at 14-13. The teams were again even at 21-21 before Silver Lake rattled off the final four points to take home the third-place hardware.