Lady Panthers go 2-3 in regional preview


From left Makiya Johnson, Melissa Escobedo-Pinedo and Jenna Dew celebrate an Ace while assistant coach Darci Bekka looks on. The Hulett Red Devils behind Saratoga don't seem as impressed.

The Saratoga Panthers volleyball team went 2-3 in a weekend tournament in Kaycee, but according to coach Shayley Love, the friendly tournament was about more than results. Saratoga has three games left in conference play, and if the Lady Panthers want to make it to the regional tournament in Lander, they will have to pick up at least one more W from those remaining matches.

"We got to see all but three of the (other) 1A teams in this tournament," Love said, continuing, "That was a huge advantage for us, to see what we'd be up against (at Regionals)." As the season enters its final leg, Love said she and her team have been paying close attention to the competition.

At the Kaycee tournament, a slightly different format was used for the matches in order to facilitate the large number of participating teams. Normally, sets are played to 25 points, and a team that wins three of five sets wins the match. In Kaycee, however, the teams played sets to 21 points and only had to take two of three sets in order to win a match.

The Panthers started strong Friday, winning matches against Ten Sleep 21-9 and 21-11 and Midwest (21-8), (21-7). "Meredith (Lincoln)'s always solid for us, Alicia (Zaragoza) does a nice job and she was hitting well on Friday," Love said of her team's performance.

The Panthers faltered against Farson/Eden Friday evening though, losing a hard-fought battle in two sets 21-13 and 21-20. On Saturday, Saratoga lost both their matches, falling to Encampment 21-9 and 21-7 and losing to Dubois 21-17 and 21-11.

The Farson/Eden match was significant because that school is one of the three remaining conference teams Saratoga will play before regionals begin. The other two teams Saratoga will play are Baggs and Encampment, and since both are highly competitive, Farson/Eden may represent the Panthers' best hope to advance to regionals.

"(Over the weekend) Shaelee (Hamann) did some great things at the net and Taylor (Bennet) did some great things playing blocker," Love noted. Calling the weekend a "collective effort," Love said the team played well on the whole and got valuable insights into their adversaries' habits.

The Panthers got a scare during their first game against Encampment when Makiya Johnson landed awkwardly and rolled her ankle. Johnson was able to return for the second game, however, and Love hopes to use her this weekend. "Getting her back to full-strength and ready to go is kind of our goal (this week)." Love said.

Another serious injury would be bad news for the Cats this late in the season. Last week, the team learned an ankle injury to starter Aubrey Berger would leave her sidelined the rest of the year. Though Berger continues to travel with and support her teammates, Love said, "We'll just have to move forward and look for her (on the court) next year."

Love said the Panthers would be concentrating on defense for the remainder of the season. "Defense wins games, so if our defense is as strong as it can be and is consistently strong, I feel like we'll have a really good shot in regionals," Love said.

"When we get to the regional tournament, the other side won't be nearly as strong as us," Love said. It's the getting there that may be tricky.

Saratoga's next match is an away game against Baggs, 5 p.m. Oct. 21. Love said the team will be wearing pink uniforms in support of breast cancer survivors and all others affected by cancer. Those who attend the game might see Saratoga secure a place in the post season.

Meredith Lincoln unloads on the Dubois defense.


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