Panther Valley is playing its best volleyball of the season – and it couldn't come at a better time.
The Panthers used tremendous balance up and down the lineup on Thursday night to sweep Lehighton, 25-15, 25-21, 25-22 in a District 11 Class AA pigtail round match.
The victory was the fourth straight for Panther Valley, which now moves on to Saturday's pool play portion of the Class AA tournament at Catasauqua.
"I think we're playing as well as we have at any time this season," said Panther coach Nancy Filer. "We had a tough early-season schedule and we struggled a little bit, but the last couple of weeks the team had been playing very well. This is the time of the year when you want to be playing your best.
"We've looked good in our matches and we've also practiced very well. I was pretty confident coming into this match that we were going to have a strong performance."
The 10th-seeded Panthers (10-7) did exactly that, jumping out to a double digit lead midway through the opening game before Sarah Branchide eventually closed out the 25-15 win with a kill and two service points.
Lehighton, which was seeded 7th, led 13-12 midway through game two but Celene Yelito and Lyndsay Kusko both strung together service runs to help Panther Valley take a 24-16 lead that it turned into a 25-21 victory. Yelito and Kusko both had a pair of aces during their runs – part of Panther Valley's total of 14 aces in the match.
"We have been serving the ball very well lately and that continued tonight," said Filer. "It hasn't been just a couple of players either. I think we had six or seven or different players get aces tonight which really helps maintain momentum."
The third game was a back-and-forth struggle that was tied at 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 before a pair of Yelito service points gave the Panthers a 23-21 edge. Kills by Chrissy Micholik and Deanna Focht eventually ended it.
"We just couldn't get any momentum," said Lehighton coach Rachel Quinn. "We were on a roller coaster the entire match. We just never found the consistency we needed to take control of a game."
Micholik (10 kills, three blocks), Focht (seven kills, seven blocks) and Amy Yusella (six kills, three blocks) led Panther Valley at the net in the match. Yelito had a team-high 14 assists; Stephanie Kachelries had 14 service points; and Kusko keyed the defense with 10 digs.
For Lehighton, Jessica Lobein led the way in both digs (28) and kills (six). Debra Lobein had a team-high 15 kills and Natalie Zurn added thee aces.