BY JIM MISUNAS
Win or lose — Great Bend volleyball coach Shelly Duvall was going to be emotional facing her former Ellinwood Eagle team.
Duvall celebrated a hard-fought three-set victory, then congratulated her former players in a match that felt like a substate championship. Mutual respect was evident when former players hugged a tearful Duvall after a 25-22, 14-25, 25-21 victory.
“I tried to keep my cool, but that was emotional,” said Duvall, who faced a myriad of emotion. “My girls told me all day that they had my back tonight, which was great. They knew how much it meant to me. I knew it’d be a battle because Ellinwood is a fabulous team. They are a volleyball team that plays with fire and emotion. Coaching such high quality girls at Ellinwood and Great Bend is why I coach.”
After Ellinwood hitter Maddy Ward and Mya Maxwell dominated the second set, the Panthers (5-3) answered with effective defense, blocking and harder hits. Ward took control of the net in the second set.
“Our offense got going and we started hitting harder at the net,” Duvall said. “But it started with our defense. Maddy Ward is a terrific hitter. It took a great effort for us to win that match.”
Libero Sydney Unruh rescued the biggest point of the match with a miraculous recovery that led to a 24-21 lead. The Panthers’ best hitter Olivia Mull closed the match with the winning spike. Unruh handled serve-after-serve to trigger the Panthers’ offense.
“I’d put our libero against anyone in the state,” Duvall said.
Mull ignited the Panthers’ set one victory with sparkling play. Alyssa Herter and Brynn Boxberger closed the set with winning points.
Ward’s play gave 2A Ellinwood (7-8) a legimimate shot at upsetting the 5A Panthers.
Coach Greg Maxwell saw his Eagles play at a state-tournament level. The Eagles brought high intensity and played some of their best volleyball of the season.
“We can play better fundamentally, but that’s the type of great effort and intensity I like to see,” Maxwell said. “The girls gave us everything they could tonight as far as teamwork. This is the type of match that will make us a better volleyball team. We’ll have to play like this to compete in post-season play. Substate will come down to a 2-point set where every point matters.”
Ellinwood’s Allison McReynolds, Maxwell and Hailey Gross also provided key plays. Ellinwood started the night with a comeback 17-25, 25-13, 25-23 victory. Ward, Mya Maxwell, Anahi Mendez and Gross provided key plays.
The Panthers downed Smoky Valley 25-16, 25-21 behind solid defense and net play against the Vikings’ 5-10 tandem of Abby Rose and Bri Franklin.
Libero Sydney Unruh anchored the defense with spectacular digs and hustling first touches. Unruh handled a variety of well-struck serves by the Vikings.
Panther Rachel Panzer led the first-set offense with winners at the net. Jenna Mauler, Jayden Johnson and Alyssa Herter contributed winners. Olivia Mull gave the Panthers a lift with back-to-back service aces for a 22-14 lead. Panzer delivered two more winners and Mauler’s unreturnable serve closed the set.
The Vikings’ Rose and Franklin got rolling in a tighter second set. Mauler and Herter provided winners for a 19-14 lead. Franklin’s winner and back-to-back serves by Kaitlyn Pohlman drew the Vikings within 20-19. But the Panthers’ Mull, Mauler and Herter hit winners for a 24-19 lead.
“My girls told me all day that they had my back tonight, which was great. They knew how much it meant to me.Shelly Duvall, Great Bend volleyball coach