With two weeks left in the regular season, the Schuylkill League volleyball picture is starting to come into focus.
We know that Pottsville controls its own destiny in Division 1.
With a three-game lead, we know that Tri-Valley has all but clinched Division 3.
As the League's only unbeaten team, we know that Marian is in the driver's seat in Division 4.
And then we have Division 2, where the only thing we know is that we're nowhere close to naming a champion.
Entering play yesterday, Panther Valley, Halifax, Lourdes and Pine Grove were all tied atop Division 2 with a league mark of 6-3.
Last night, the Panthers upped their mark to 7-3 with a three-game sweep of Schuylkill Haven (25-7, 25-10, 25-9) to take a half-game lead atop the standings with Lourdes (who was a three-game winner over Pine Grove last night).
Now, with the Division championship up for grabs, Panther Valley must run through a three-team gauntlet of Pine Grove, Lourdes and Halifax to conclude its season and ultimately decide its playoff fate.
"Coming off a tough five-game loss to Halifax on Wednesday night, I was proud of how the girls rebounded tonight," stated Panthers head coach Nancy Filer. "These girls have high hopes for the end of the season and they'll be able to go out and prove themselves over these next three games."
While Panther Valley (9-3, 7-3) defeated Pine Grove earlier this season, two of its three losses this year came against Lourdes and Halifax, so the Panthers will certainly be looking for a chance at redemption.
"You always want to be playing meaningful games at the end of the season and I'm excited for these seniors," added Filer, whose starting lineup consists of six seniors. "Our team chemistry is really good right now and I have all the confidence in the world in these girls that they'll step up and seize the opportunity."
Panther Valley wasted no time seizing the opportunity against Schuylkill Haven, as it scored the first five points of the game and used an 11-point service run by Deanna Focht to take a commanding 23-3 lead, en route to the 25-7 victory.
Game two was more of the same, as five consecutive kills from Amy Yusella gave the Panthers a 10-4 lead before Marley Mikovich closed out the 25-10 win by serving off six straight points.
An eight-point service run by Stephanie Kachelries propelled Panther Valley to a 10-1 lead in the third game, as the Panthers ran away with the 25-9 win.
Although Panther Valley cruised to the easy victory, it wasn't without its faults. Schuylkill Haven scored 18 of its 26 total points off Panther Valley errors, as the Hurricanes combined for a total of just 10 service points and four kills in the match.
Amy Yusella (eight service points) and Chrissy Micholik (six assists) both had nine kills apiece to lead the Panthers, while Kristyn Gates dished off 19 assists to go along with 10 service points. Deanna Focht added 16 points and seven kills, while Stephanie Kachelries tacked on 14 service points, seven aces and six digs.
The Panthers prevailed in the JV game by final scores of 25-6, 28-26.
"Our goal coming into this year was to make it to the league playoffs and now our season pretty much boils downs to three games," stated Yusella. "We control our own fate, now it's up to us to go out and get the job done."