Saratoga takes second at state
Lady Panthers make it to championship round in first time since 1991, face defending State Champions
November 13, 2019
The Saratoga Lady Panthers capped off their nearly undefeated season by placing as runner-ups at the 1A State Championship over the weekend in Casper. Last season, the Lady Panthers had made it to state for the first time in 13 years and advanced to the semi-final rounds for the first time since 1991. Saratoga ended their 2018 season placing 4th in the 1A conference.
This season, the Lady Panthers were able to dispatch nearly every team they went up against on the court. The only exceptions were the 3A ranked Mountain View Lady Buffaloes and the defending state champions, the Cokeville Lady Panthers. When they headed to state, their first order of business was to knock the Hanna, Elk Mountain and Medicine Bow (HEM) Lady Miners, the defending state runner-ups, into the consolation bracket.
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"We knew what to expect from Hanna and that they would play us tight, we just had to maintain our composure and play our game," said Shayley Love, head coach of the Lady Panthers.
Senior Aubrey Berger was the lead killer against HEM, as she dealt 15 kills to the Lady Miners. Freshman Whitney Bennett followed Berger with 10 kills, senior Jenna Dew had 9 kills and senior Taylor Bennett dealt 6 kills.
In serving, Dew and junior Lexi Herring both served 4 aces against HEM across 11 serves and 28 serves, respectively. Junior Tasia Daley served 2 aces over 18 serves.
T. Bennett maintained her spot as the lead blocker for the team, one she rarely conceded all season, with 15 solo blocks against the Lady Miners. Dew followed with 3 solo blocks and Berger had 2 solo blocks. Junior Savannah Wells, meanwhile, would contribute 5 assisted blocks for the Lady Panthers with Dew and Bennett each dealing 4 assisted blocks.
Daley dug deep for Saratoga as she had 55 digs against HEM. W. Bennett was the closest to Daley with 26 digs while Berger followed with 25 digs and Herring had 13 digs.
The first game of the state tournament for the two Carbon County teams spanned across four sets with a score of 25-20, 25-16, 23-25, 25-23. In the end, the Lady Panthers advanced onto the semi-final round to take on the Upton Lady Bobcats, who had obtained their No. 1 East seed the week before.
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"As we faced Upton, we knew they were a young team with solid talent in their middle and setter, so we wanted to shut them down," Love said.
During the 1A East Regionals Tournament, the Lady Bobcats had defeated HEM in the semi-final round to advance and, ultimately, dispatch the Hulett Lady Red Devils in the championship round. When they faced the Lady Panthers at state, however, they would find themselves sent to the consolation bracket.
W. Bennett led the attacks against Upton as she dealt 12 kills to the Lady Bobcats. Dew followed with 8 kills while Berger and T. Bennett each had 5 kills against Upton.
T. Bennett dealt the most aces against Upton, serving 7 aces across 24 serves while maintaining 100 percent success. W. Bennett followed with 2 aces over 11 serves and also kept her serving success at 100 percent. Herring served 2 aces against the Lady Bobcats as well.
In blocking, T. Bennett was still the lead blocker with 8 solo blocks while Dew followed with 5 solo blocks.
Daley continued digging out attempted scores as she had 29 digs against Upton. W. Bennett followed with 16 digs, Berger had 14 digs and T. Bennett had 11 digs.
With a score of 26-24, 25-18, 25-21, Saratoga was able to take care of the Lady Bobcats in only three sets and advance to the championship round and face the Cokeville Lady Panthers.
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"Looking to the championship, we knew all of us had to be on top of our game. Cokeville is a solid team, but I appreciated how our team competed and never gave up," said Love.
It had been 28 years since Saratoga had competed in the championship round and they weren't about to let that opportunity slip by them. In a Panther/Panther game, Saratoga kept Cokeville on their toes throughout the game and were able to score in double digits against the defending State Champions.
Berger was the lead killer against Cokeveille, dealing 6 kills against the opposing Lady Panthers. Dew followed with 4 kills, T. Bennett had 3 kills and W. Bennett and senior Makiyah Johnson each had 2 kills.
Dew was the only member of the purple and gold Lady Panthers to serve an ace against the orange and black.
T. Bennett was, again, the lead blocker as she had 7 solo blocks and was followed by Dew with 2 solo blocks. Wells and Berger each had 1 solo block.
Daley dug out against Cokeville with 29 digs. Berger followed with 11 digs, W. Bennett had 7 digs and Herring had 5 digs.
Ultimately, Cokeville would defeat Saratoga in three sets to become State Champions for the third time in a row. The girls of the purple and gold, however, could walk off the court knowing that they had played a hard fought season and taken their team to the championship round.
"This has been a special team not only in their talent, but their desire to succeed as a team. I'm so very proud of their efforts. They represented their school and community very well," said Love. "We are, also, so thankful for our fans that followed us and believed in us."
Love added that she is excited about the program that is being established at Saratoga.
"There's been a competitive style of play and a true love for the game developed," Love said. "There will be some rebuilding losing five talented seniors, but we have a lot of talent returning and I think this senior class has helped create an atmosphere to help us continue with success."