MINERSVILLE - Prior to the start of the season, Nancy Filer thought she could be in for a rebuilding season.
It would be easy for the veteran Panther Valley volleyball coach to think that since she lost six starters from last year's Schuylkill League Division II championship team to graduation.
Despite having just one experienced varsity player on the roster, Filer and Panthers still found themselves one victory away from defending their Division II title.
Monday night, Panther Valley and Pine Grove met in a playoff game for the division championship after both teams finished the regular season with 10-3 league records.
Unfortunately for Panthers, the experience on Pine Grove's side of the net was too much to overcome as the Cardinals rolled to a 25-21, 25-13, 25-13 win.
Pine Grove will now advance to the Schuylkill League semifinals to face Division III champion Tri-Valley Wednesday night at Martz Hall.
"Just to even get here tonight is great," Filer said. "I had one girl (Kristyn Gates) with a lot of varsity experience from last year's championship team. So, I thought I was in for a rebuilding year.
"But, to be able to rebuild that quickly and compete for the Division II title is simply amazing and we're only going to get better."
Earlier this season, the Panthers needed four games to take a win on the road against Pine Grove. A few weeks later, the Cardinals returned the favor and recorded a four game victory in Lansford.
Last night however, was the Cardinals' night
After the Panthers rattled off a 6-0 lead in the first game, the Cardinals bounced back to score the next 10 points. Amanda Kemmerling had three aces in that run while Panther Valley contributed five unforced errors.
The Panthers rallied to tie the game on four different occassions, but Pine Grove eventually pulled away for the win.
Pine Grove continued that momentum in the second and third games, breaking away from early ties and rolling to easy wins.
"Tonight, it was about the experience," Pine Grove head coach Daryl Wessner said. "Panther Valley is young and we had some kids with a little more experience. They stepped up tonight and did what they had to do.
"I don't look forward to playing them next year. Let's put it that way. They're only going to get better."
Seniors Lauren Thompson (four kills), Kemmerling (10 service points, four aces), Samantha Bertasavage (12 kills, three aces, one block), Jaymalyn Lapp (three kills) and Rachael Zimmerman (nine kills) led the Cardinals' attack.
Wessner said there was one major difference between last night's playoff and the two regular season matches between the teams.
"I think we ran a more effective offense," Wessner said. "Our offense has been our weakness. It's getting better, but we still have a long way to go. But, tonight, we were able to do a little more offensively."
The Panthers and their underclassmen dominated lineup (five juniors, six sophomores and seven freshmen) will now prepare for the start of the District 11 Class AA playoffs this weekend. They will also be looking ahead to the future.
"With every point they played, they got better," said Filer. "I'm excited about qualifying for Districts this season, but I'm so excited for next year.
"It's all going to be a learning process for us. .Yes, we're going to definitely miss Kristyn (Gates). But we're going to be back year after year."
Junior Richelle Van Horn paced the Panthers with 10 service points and seven kills; sophomore hitter Jessica Weise had six kills, four service points and two blocks; Gates finished with 15 digs; Freshman Kelsey Van Horn had five kills and five service points; and junior Jordan Devitt had seven digs.