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Panthers roll to volleyball title
The Great Bend Panther Invitational volleyball champions celebrate a winning point Saturday -- Brynn Boxberger (10), Makenzie Premer (4), Rachel Panzer (18) and Lexi Deines (5).


Great Bend’s volleyball team was coming off its second coronavirus layoff. Coach Shelly Duvall had no idea how the Panthers would perform after two practices and no matches for 10 days.

Sure enough, the Panthers surprised Duvall (which isn’t easy) and shocked two state-ranked teams from 6A Hutchinson and 3A Phillipsburg en route to five consecutive wins and the championship of Saturday’s Great Bend Volleyball Invitational.

The Panthers upset No. 6 ranked Phillipsburg 25-15, 12-25, 25-23 in the finest match of the day. The Panthers converted their fourth match point when Rachel Panzer's spike tipped off Kay Pakkebier's on Zoe Jerke's pass. The Panthers outlasted No. 10 ranked 6A Hutchinson 25-23, 25-19 for first place after both teams won their first four matches.

“Anytime you beat state-ranked teams, it’s a great day. It was above and beyond what I imagined,” said Duvall, who enjoys rare optimism. “They practiced really hard for two days, but I was surprised by how well the girls performed. Our team chemistry today was perfect. Everyone supported each other whether they were playing or coming off the bench. Those girls were going to win their matches. They played hungry like every time could be their last match.” 

Phillipsburg (17-3) features a tall and aggressive frontline, but the Panthers countered with excellent backline defense from Sydney Unruh and Lexi Deines, setting by Alayna Irwin and Zoe Jerke and hitting from the regular cast of characters — Brynn Boxberger, Rachel Panzer, Candice Smith and supersub Valarie Luna and reserve play by Makenzie Premer. 

Deines, Unruh and Panzer handled the serving; Irwin and Jerke delivered ballhandling assists; Unruh, Jerke and Panzer led with digs; and Unruh, Panzer and Deines received serves. 

“Phillipsburg was a big test because they have tall girls who play a physical game,” Duvall said. “It was a battle to the final point. That third set took our best play to pull out a win. Each and every girl contributed and everyone has their role. The defense by Sydney Unruh and Lexi Deines is unbelievable. Our setting by Zoe Jerke and Alayna Irwin was right on all day. Our younger players, two freshmen and a sophomore gave us great energy. We see a player like Valarie Luna blossom from a C team player to a great hitter and blocker.”

Developing homecourt advantage is something Duvall dreamed about. Maybe dreams do some true. 

“We started the day 7-5 and ended up 12-5,” Duvall said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. These girls are something special.”

Great Bend will be the site of the Oct. 17 Western Athletic Conference Tournament and 5A post-season volleyball substate Oct. 24.


1— Great Bend (5-0) def. Hutchinson (4-1), 25-23, 25-19; Great Bend def. Phillipsburg, 25-15, 12-25, 25-23; Great Bend def. Salina Central, 25-17, 25-23; Great Bend def. Hays High, 25-15, 14-25, 25-8; Great Bend def. Ulysses, 25-20, 25-18; Hutchinson def. Phillipsburg, 25-20, 28-26; Hutchinson def. Salina Central, 25-17, 25-14; Hutchinson def. Hays High, 25-22, 25-14; Hutchinson def. Ulysses, 25-11, 25-13; 3—Phillipsburg (3-2) def. Salina Central (2-3), 25-23, 21-25, 27-25; Phillipsburg def. Hays High, 25-16, 25-17; Phillipsburg def. Ulysses, 25-17, 25-11; Salina Central def. Hays High, 25-22, 25-14; Salina Central def. Ulysses, 25-20, 25-12; 5—Hays High def. Ulysses, 25-21, 25-22 

HUTCHINSON STATS—Valarie Luna, 3 winners, 2 blocks, 1 serve received; Makenzie Premer, 4 winners, 2 blocks, 1 dig; Lexi Deines, 5 digs, 11 serves received; Alayna Irwin, 4 digs, 10 ballhandling assists; Macy Nachtigal, 4 winners, 1 block, 1 dig, 4 serves received; Brynn Boxberger, 9 winners, 2 blocks, 1 ballhandling assist; Sydney Unruh, 17 digs, 7 serves received; Rachel Panzer, 6 winners, 1 block, 14 digs, 13 serves received; Zoe Jerke, 7 digs, 18 ballhandling assists, 1 serve received; Candice Smith, 4 winners, 1 block

PHILLIPSBURG STATS—Luna, 2 winners, 1 block, 3 digs; Premer, 4 winners, 1 block, 1 serve received; Deines, 5 digs, 1 ballhandling assist, 10 serves received; Irwin, 3 digs, 12 ballhandling assists, 1 serve received; Nachtigal, 4 winners, 4 digs, 8 serves received; Boxberger, 11 winners, 2 blocks; Unruh, 11 digs, 4 ballhandling assists, 18 serves received; Panzer, 7 winners, 1 block, 8 digs, 17 serves received; Jerke, 4 digs, 15 ballhandling assists; Smith, 5 winners, 1 block, 1 dig

HAYS STATS—Luna, 2 winners, 1 block, 2 digs, 2 serves received; Premer, 6 winners, 1 dig; Deines, 6 digs, 1 ballhandling assist, 11 serves received; Irwin, 1 winner, 2 digs, 10 ballhandling assists; Nachtigal, 7 winners, 3 digs, 5 serves received; Boxberger, 9 winners, 5 digs; Unruh, 15 digs, 4 ballhandling assists, 17 serves received; Panzer, 12 winners, 10 digs, 6 serves received; Jerke, 10 digs, 21 ballhandling assists; Smith, 2 digs

SALINA CENTRAL STATS—Luna, 2 winners, 1 block, 2 digs; Premer, 1 winner, 1 dig; Deines, 6 digs, 7 serves received; Irwin, 2 digs, 10 ballhandling assists; Nachtigal, 4 winners, 3 digs, 3 serves received; Boxberger, 9 winners, 5 digs; Unruh, 15 digs, 2 ballhandling assists, 16 serves received; Panzer, 6 winners, 10 digs, 9 serves received; Jerke, 10 digs, 11 ballhandling assists; Smith, 1 winner, 2 digs

ULYSSES STATS—Luna, 3 winners, 2 blocks, 2 digs, 1 serves received; Premer, 3 winners, 1 dig; Deines, 4 digs, 5 serves received; Irwin, 2 digs, 11 ballhandling assists; Nachtigal, 4 winners, 2 digs, 3 serves received; Boxberger, 5 winners; Unruh, 1 winner, 12 digs, 16 serves received, 2 ballhandling assists; Panzer, 8 winners, 1 block, 11 digs, 7 serves received, 1 ballhandling assist; Jerke, 1 winner, 3 digs, 12 ballhandling assists; Smith, 3 winners

Great Bend wins title