BY JIM MISUNAS
A single point defined why Great Bend’s volleyball is riding a 13-match winning streak heading to the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Panther crowd roared when four players saved set points to keep the Panthers alive for Rachel Panzer’s winner for a 24-24 tie.
Panzer deflected a line drive blast followed by back-to-back saves by Zoe Jerke and Panzer. Panzer deflected a one-handed save followed by back-to-back saves by Jenna Mauler. Panzer and Sydney Unruh made final saves. Jerke fed Panzer for the winner on the seventh time over the net.
A pair of Alyssa Herter winners later, and Great Bend escaped Smith Center’s upset bid 25-13, 26-24 on Senior Night. The Lady Red (26-4) beat Phillipsburg 28-26, 20-25, 25-20 and had lost three-set matches to Beloit, Hays-TMP and Phillipsburg.
“It was crazy. We never let anything touch the floor,” Mauler said. “That’s gets us so excited. Some of those digs never happen. In my head, I told myself, I can’t let it touch. It was game point. A third set could go any way.”
Mauler said the Panthers’ ability to have every player contribute is a key.
“Everyone contributes and we’re playing as a team,” Mauler said. “We knew those teams would be good. Our passers are getting the ball up, the setters are doing their job and our hitters are playing smart.”
The Panthers earned eight points in the first set on serves. Boxberger and Mauler each hit six winners. Boxberger and Mauler combined for seven early winners for a 10-2 lead. Mauler hit four consecutive winners for a 21-9 lead.
The Lady Red used hitting by Lizzy Pfortmiller. Tallon Rentschler and Kendra Maydew to keep pace with the Panthers. The Lady Red overcame hitting errors with aggressive play at the net. Maydew and Bree Frieling hit back-to-back winners for a 24-23 lead when diving save after diving save.
“That last rally was the best I’ve ever seen in a high school volleyball match,” said Great Bend coach Shelly Duvall. “They did not let anything touch the floor. It was a great night of volleyball. We did our jobs and finished everything.”
Duvall said Smith Center and Phillipsburg were two quality volleyball teams.
“They have size and power,” Duvall said. “We kept our heads in the game and no one ever got down. Our silent killer Jayden Johnhson had the night of her life tonight. She made the smart play when we needed it.”
GREAT BEND vs. PHILLIPSBURG — Great Bend survived its first test Tuesday with a hard-fought 25-13, 22-25, 25-20 victory over 3A Phillipsburg. The Panthers (25-4) own the second-best record in 5A West.
As usual, it was a typical team effort. Defensive wizards Sydney Unruh and Jenna Mauler delivered their usual magic to save points.
Setter Alyssa Herter set up her teammates time-after-time. Panthers Jayden Johnson, Herter, Olivia Mull, Brynn Boxberger, Mauler and Rachel Panzer took turns hitting winners.
During the first set, Mull, Boxberger and Mauler led the way with winning shots. Mull hit three consecutive winners for a 12-7 lead. Boxberger added back-to-back winners for a 22-12 lead.
But Phillipsburg’s trio of hard-hitting Jenna Hoover, Emily Scheneider and Heather Schremper ignited the Panthers’ second-set run. Herter, Mauler and Johnson led Great Bend’s second-set attack.
Hoover mixed hard winners with tipped shots to keep Great Bend off balance. Meg Keeten and Hoover closed out the second set 25-22.
Boxberger and Panzer each hit a pair of winners for a 7-5 lead. Schemper led Phillipsburg’s rally for a 16-15 lead at the halfway point. But Mull saved the match with a trio of winners in the final stretch. Mull and Boxberger delivered the game-defining moment with a double block that turned back Hoover’s attack for a 21-18 lead.
Winners by Panzer and Johnson set up Mauler’s final diving save and block at the net for a 25-20 finale.
Great Bend seniors Jayden Johnson, Kayli Shull, Alyssa Herter, Olivia Mull, Jenna Mauler and Mara Fletchall were recognized between matches.