The Lady Panthers volleyball team has got something working this season.
Tuesday night at the Navarro Events Center, in front of a packed house, the ladies showed why.
A strong group of hitters, led by Kelly Helms, scored multiple points on kills at the net on the way to a dominating three-set win over Fredericksburg, 25-16, 25-21 and 25-16.
Navarro improved to 14-6 on the year, already have a tournament championship this season, and played well despite a key injury in the contest, Head Coach Nicole Blakeman.
“I thought we adjusted well,” Blakeman said. “We had to take somebody out after an injury, and put someone in that isn’t used to playing in the middle.”
Haley Hoffman went down in the second game, and left the court at the end of the night on crutches.
Hoffman went down with the Panthers up 24-15 in the second set, but a run by Fredericksburg after the injury made it close, with the Billies scoring six straight to close the gap to 24-21.
“We sort of limped through that game (after the injury), but we were able to finish the second game,” Blakeman said. “Fredericksburg is a good team, a young team that has a high ceiling, and I think they’re going to do well through the rest of the season.”
While Helms scored on several set plays, using her 6-foot-3 height to smash balls too hot to handle for the Billies, she got help on the offensive side when she was not on the floor,
Helms had seven kills, while Sara Benner, Berklee Andrews and Madison McCaig all had six kills each. Hoffman chipped in with four before being injured and Ashley Gosch had three.
McCaig scored the final point on a beautiful cross court slam to close out the match.
“They are all smart hitters,” Blakeman said. “It was very smart of Maddie at the end, when she was on the right side of the court to hit the ball back to area one — that was really smart.
“A lot of times the girls were just swinging away, but she was becoming more aware of where she was on the court.”
Defensively, the Lady Panthers had several key blocks at the net that led to points.
“We adjusted really well to learn when to block for the middle and when to block for the outside hitters,” Blakeman said.
Navarro went on several runs throughout all three games to distance themselves from the Billies.
“It’s all about ball control,” Blakeman said. “The team that is going to control the ball is the team that’s going to win — when we did what we were supposed to do, we had really good ball control.”
All-everything libero Carolyn Burch led the defensive effort with 12 digs, while Gosch had 11. Burch also contributed offensively with solid serves, collecting three aces, while Sam Smith had four aces on the night.
Burch collected her 1,000th dig for Navarro in the contest.
The Lady Panthers have about two more weeks before district starts, and Blakeman is pleased with where they are now in their preparation for the district season.
“It was our first home game, so sometimes they get a little nervous with all their friends and family in the stands,” Blakeman said. “We had some uncharacteristic errors, but I attribute that to playing at home for the first time.
“I feel good (about the team), but we still have things to work on. We play Incarnate Word on Friday, New Braunfels Christian next week and then we have another tournament.”
Senior leadership has been an important key for the team so far this season.
“Both Kelly and Carolyn are very good leaders,” Blakeman said. “They call Kelly ‘Mother goose’, and that’s really true.”
Blakeman thought the home crowd spurred the team on emotionally throughout the night.
“It makes a huge difference in volleyball, because it’s a momentum sport,” she said. “You can see that momentum. In game two, Fredericksburg got a little bit of momentum, and we had to work to finish it.
“It was a big thing that in game three, we took back the momentum.”
Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .