The tears came hard and fast and the Great Bend Panther girls were reluctant to leave the locker room.
They didn’t want their school-record setting season to end.
The Goddard Lions outlasted the feisty Great Bend Panthers 21-25, 25-22, 25-23 in a classic 5A substate volleyball championship. Goddard downed Valley Center 25-20, 25-21 and Great Bend outlasted Salina South 23-25, 25-14, 25-21 to reach the championship match.
Great Bend’s Olivia Mull hit back-to-back winners for a 23-22 lead in the decisive third set. The Panthers were two points away from the 5A state tournament for the first time since 2014.
But the Panthers missed a volley and Goddard converted the go-ahead point 24-23 on Madisyn Pitts’ winner off a block. Kade Hackerott hit the match winner on a block for a 25-23 victory.
It was an emotional ending for Great Bend coach Shelly Duvall, whose mother also coached the Panthers.
“Some of the girls didn’t want to leave the locker room,” Duvall said. “I heard one of them say, ‘I love you and this is my family.’ That’s what’s is all about as a coach. These girls are family. I think of them as my own. You win some and lose some as a team.”
Every point and volley was contested from start-to-finish. The powerful Lions kept ripping shot-after-shot, but the Panthers trio of defensive aces Sydney Unruh, Jenna Mauler and Rachel Panzer responded time-after-time. The Panthers dug down and gave coach Duvall every ounce of effort.
Goddard’s Hackerott, Pitts, Cydney Caryter and Abbie Medbery were a handful for Great Bend.
“Goddard’s size mattered,” Duvall said. “We had to battle at the net, but the bigger player sometimes wins. We gave them free balls and had to defend that.”
Great Bend’s Rachel Panzer was the Panthers’ best player Saturday, hitting winner-after-winner off sets by Alyssa Herter and Zoe Jerke. The Panthers’ Mauler, Mull and Brynn Boxberger contributed winners.
Panzer and Mauler paced the way for a first-set victory. The Panthers led 12-6 in the second set when the Lions ended with a 19-10 margin for a second-set victory. Sydney Morrow and Medbery hit key winners.
Hackerott’s play was matched by Panzer, Mauler and Mull. But the Lions had the final answer.
The Panthers’ best play came up just short.
“Our communication was really good and our defense was on today,” Duvall said. “It’s really difficult to guard teams which have big girls like Goddard. We played smart and had good serving all day.”
Duvall had no regrets.
“The girls gave us everything they had all season,” she said. “They ended with a school record 28 wins. The girls worked really hard for every point.”