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Prep Volleyball: Panthers show poise in victory over Wolverines


Massaponax volleyball coach Joe Cox said that if his team can maintain its poise during challenging circumstances, it could have a successful season.

On Tuesday night, after the Panthers had mostly coasted through the first two games against defending Commonwealth District champion North Stafford, they hit a slight rut.

They saw a four-point lead turn into a 23-all tie, and they heard the Wolverines fans begin to buzz.

But this Massaponax team is more experienced than many that came before it.

The players took a collective deep breath, took their time and won the next two points, and they left North Stafford’s gym with a 25–22, 25–18, 25–23 victory.

“When we’re focused and we have energy, that’s when we play our best volleyball,” Massaponax co-captain Colleen Beaver said. “We had to come together, and that’s what we did.”

The Panthers have been overshadowed in recent years by Colonial Forge, Albemarle and North Stafford.

But Cox thinks his team has the chance to find a spot in the district’s upper tier.

It has already competed in a pair of prestigious tournaments, most recently the Virginia Volleyball Showcase in Richmond, where it placed second in the silver division after going 3–2.

The Panthers (5–4) have won at least one game in each of their nine matches this season.

“I feel like there’s room for improvement, but we’re getting there,” Cox said. “We can play with anyone. If we continue to improve and get more dynamic, we have a chance to have a special season.”

North Stafford is coming off of a special season. Last year, the Wolverines won a district title behind Free Lance–Star player of the year Katrina Houston.

The problem for the Wolverines is that very few current players were a part of that. North Stafford lost eight seniors after last season, as well as head coach Dan Jones.

But first-year coach Emily Dudenhefer will not let her team’s inexperience serve as an excuse this year.

“I don’t tell them that we’re anything less than great and fantastic,” she said. “I expect perfection from them, and it will get there.”

On Tuesday night, the Wolverines showed that they are a work in progress.

The opening game was tied at 16 before Massaponax distanced itself with a three-point rally.

Junior Emily Kilpatrick dropped the ball into an empty spot on the court to give the Panthers a 22–18 lead, and they held on for a 25–22 win.

“Whenever we win the first game it builds up our confidence,” Rachel Jankovits said. “But we just had to keep it going.”

In the second game, Massaponax was dominant.

It held an 11–9 lead when it seized command with seven consecutive points, buoyed by a pair of Sabrina Torres kills.

North Stafford had a brief rally to close within 24–18, but Jankovits closed out the game with a kill.

“I felt there were some spots our outside hitters could work on,” Cox said. “We were doing a better job understanding when to take a rip at the ball, and when it’s best to keep it in play.”

Massaponax led 21–17 in the final game before North Stafford rallied to tie it at 23.

But the Panthers stayed calm and collected and emerged with the win.

Jankovits had 10 kills and Torres added seven. Ashley Satterwhite had 15 assists and Erica Cunningham had 16 assists.

For North Stafford, Christine Jackson had 11 digs and five blocks, Alexandra Sosik had eight kills, and Abby Rosa tallied five kills and four blocks.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442