It was back-and-forth, a true championship match. There were epic points, amazing saves, curving serves and thunderous spikes.
Great Bend coach Shelly Duvall knew exactly what she was doing scheduling the Panthers against nine-time Western Athletic Conference champion Garden City in the final match of the day. Garden City survived a pair of earlier 3-set matches against Dodge City and Liberal, and found a way to survive.
Garden City emerged as a 10-time WAC champion as Buffalo coach Trista Bailey emerged the victor with a hard-fought 25-16, 24-26, 25-22 championship victory. The Buffaloes' hard hitting made the difference in the opening set.
Great Bend responded as Candice Smith and Rachel Panzer hit final winners for a 26-24 second set victory as the Panthers rallied from a 16-4 deficit. The Panthers' teamwork showed as defensive wizards Sydney Unruh and Lexi Deines made plays. Makenzie Premer, Lexi Deines, Brynn Boxberger and Panzer hit key winners
"You dream of those moments like today because I know how well the girls played today. We played some 'big-girl' volleyball and left everything on the floor," said Great Bend coach Shelly Duvall. "We couldn't ask for anything more from our girls. We knew it'd be a battle."
The Buffaloes led by a few points in the final decisive set, leading by as many as three points in the final stretch. Melody Flores delivered the match point winner. Garden City's Abby Ellermann and McKenna Jagels delivered key winners in the final set.
"We made tiny mistakes with hitting coverage, but everyone was swinging," Duvall said. "Makenzie Premer stepped up and everyone did their job. I wasn't worried what Garden did. I told our girls to play 'Panther volleyball.' Eventually, we came out swinging Garden City and trusted each other. We showed a lot of mental toughness."
The Panthers (18-10) were a few points away from celebrating a monumental achievement. They'll be the top seeded favorite and play Hays High (12-21) next Saturday with Salina Central (14-16) meeting Salina South (14-17).
WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
1—Garden City def. Great Bend, 25-16, 24-26, 25-22
Garden City def. Dodge City, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22; Garden City def. Hays High, 25-22, 25-10; Garden City def. Liberal, 23-25, 25-19, 25-21; Great Bend def. Dodge City, 25-10, 17-25, 25-22; Great Bend def. Liberal, 25-17, 25-19; Great Bend def. Hays High, 25-11, 25-16; Hays High def. Dodge City, 25-23, 23-25, 25-20; Liberal def. Hays High, 27-25, 25-19; Dodge City def. Liberal, 25-19, 25-17
CENTRAL PRAIRIE LEAGUE
1—Ellinwood def. St. John, 25-19, 25-22; 3—Victoria def. Central Plains, 21-25, 25-19, 25-21
SEMIFINALS—Ellinwood def. Central Plains, 25-23, 25-20; St. John def. Victoria, 19-25, 25-20, 25-16
POOL A—Ellinwood def. Central Plains, 25-23, 25-20; Ellinwood def. Macksville, 25-10, 25-11; Ellinwood def. LaCrosse, 25-6, 25-11; St. John def. Macksville, 25-14, 25-20; St. John def. LaCrosse,25-4, 25-12; Macksville def. LaCrosse, 25-13, 25-13
POOL B—Victoria def. Central Plains, 25-20, 25-16; Victoria def. Otis-Bison, 25-17, 25-15; Victoria def. Kinsley,25-11, 25-12; Central Plains def. Otis-Bison, 25-15, 23-25, 25-13; Central Plains def. Kinsley, 25-7, 25-19'Otis-Bison def. Kinsley, 25-14, 25-14