OREFIELD - Panther Valley entered Tuesday's match against Bethlehem Catholic riding a wave of confidence and momentum. The Panthers were coming off what might have been their best performance of the season just one night earlier.
Unfortunately for Panther Valley, the Lady Hawks smashed that wave the same way they smashed balls at the net – hard and often.
Bethlehem Catholic ended a successful Panther season with a dominant, 25-15, 25-10, 25-20 victory in the semifinals of the District 11 Class AA volleyball tournament at Parkland High School.
The top-seeded Lady Hawks, who will now face Southern Lehigh on Thursday for the District championship, displayed frontline balance and strength that overpowered Panther Valley from the opening point.
"All we really knew about Panther Valley was its record and a couple odds and ends we could find online," said Bethlehem Catholic coach Howard Vernick. "But I did know that their league isn't quite as good as where we play in the Lehigh Valley Conference.
"We had a 12-2 record and tied for second place during the regular season in our league. We play competition that really prepares us for postseason play, so just based on that, we were pretty confident coming into this match."
Bethlehem Catholic wasted no time displaying that confidence as it jumped out to leads of 6-1 and 13-3 in the opening game. Five different Lady Hawks had kills and three different players had blocks during the opening run as Becahi flexed its muscles and rolled to the double-digit win.
"We came out flat," said Panther Valley coach Nancy Filer. "I don't know if it was nerves or if we were a little intimidated or what. We played so well Monday night against Blue Mountain, but we didn't play very well tonight.
"Bethlehem Catholic is a good team that has lots of weapons, but we've played better teams this year. I really believe if we would have played our best, we would have beaten them."
The Panthers' struggles continued in game two as the Lady Hawks displayed some outstanding serving to go along with their frontline power. Sophomore Kelsey Mowrey had three of her team's seven aces in the game as Bethlehem Catholic built a 14-4 lead and cruised to the easy victory.
"I was happy with our performance," said Vernick. "We had two goals coming in tonight. We wanted to win in three games and we wanted to play consistent - and we accomplished both of those things.
"Strong teams sometimes tend to struggle against teams that are a little less talented, but our girls avoided that tonight. Panther Valley is a scrappy team and they played hard, but we never gave them a chance to get any momentum."
The Panthers' best performance came during the third game when both coaches went to their bench.
Bethlehem Catholic led 17-9 before PV roared back behind a couple of service points from Krista Paul and a three-point run by Richelle Van Horn, which included a pair of aces. Amy Yusella was a force at the net during the run with a pair of blocks and a kill.
The Panthers pulled to within a point at 19-18 before the Lady Hawks regrouped and pulled away to finish off the sweep.
"I was happy with how some of our underclassmen played in that third game," said Filer. "It was definitely our best game of the night.
"I'm also happy with the season we had. It was great group of kids and they should be proud of their accomplishments."
Abbi Haas and Anna Domyan led Bethlehem Catholic (16-4) with 15 and 11 kills respectively. Mowrey had seven kills to go with seven aces.
For Panther Valley (14-5), Yusella had a strong all-around game with eight kills, two blocks, four service points and four digs. Deanna Focht added four kills, three blocks and five digs; Stephanie Kachelries had three kills and six digs; and Kristyn Gates had six assists.