Panthers finish second in Shelby Co. High Invitational

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, October 9, 2013

After a rollercoaster first half of the season that produced a 9-8 record going into the weekend, the Jemison Panthers volleyball squad put together a solid performance Saturday to advance to the championship match of the inaugural Shelby County High School Invitational, dropping a close 2-1 (15-25, 25-23, 13-15) decision to Talladega High School to bring home a second place finish.

Freshman Cassani Steele and sophomore Emily Spain earned all-tournament honors, but coach Leighsa Robinson said her entire team could have brought home individual medals.

“I wish we could give all 10 of our girls all-tourmanent awards,” Robinson said. “This was by far the most united effort we have had all year, especially in those last two matches.

“Our front row players dominated offensively and defensively, and when a ball got through the block, our back row players were there to pick it up. I couldn’t be prouder of our girls.”

Net presence: Cassani Steele was named to the all-tournament team following her performance at Shelby County High School on Oct. 5.

Net presence: Cassani Steele was named to the all-tournament team following her performance at Shelby County High School on Oct. 5.

The tournament got off to a shaky start for JHS. The host Wildcats took JHS down, 2-1 (25-18, 9-25, 15-13) in the opening match.

Steele recorded seven kills and two blocks in the loss, while Denten Ellison had six kills and nine digs. Spain chipped in four kills and eight assists, and Morgan Lucas added six digs.

JHS bounced right back, however, knocking off county neighbor Thorsby in straight sets, 2-0 (25-22, 25-14). C.C. Wright led Jemison with four kills, while Ashley Dutton had eight assists, three aces and five digs.

In the second meeting with Shelby County in the double round-robin pool play, the Panthers got perhaps their best performance all day from their back row players to take a 2-1 (25-17, 23-25, 15-9) win. Spain led all players with 10 digs, while Ellison added nine, Brooke Lewis had seven, and Wendy Spigener and Dutton contributed six apiece. Ellison also added seven kills at the net.

In match No. 2 with Thorsby, Steele again led the way with four kills, while Ellison and Taylor Ray put down three apiece. Spain came through again with six assists and four service aces, as Dutton also had six assists to go along with four digs.

Thorsby’s Jennifer Spivey recorded eight kills in the tournament, while Sabrina Ellison tallied seven kills and seven aces.

Keela Lucas had 19 assists and eight aces for Thorsby.

The Panthers squared off with a familiar foe once again in the tournament semifinals, matching up with the Mustangs of Isabella.

The first set was a back-and-forth affair for most of the event, as the two teams were tied at 20 late. The Mustangs were able to go on a 3-0 run to move to 23-20, and hung on for a 25-22 set win.

The second set saw Jemison get out to an 8-4 lead over IHS early. The Panthers used the early momentum to get out to a 19-12 lead. Jemison then tore on a 6-2 run to take down the Mustangs, 25-14, and tie the match at 1-1.

The final set looked to be a shootout, as the two squads fought to a 6-6 tie, with Isabella taking a 7-6 advantage.

Just as it appeared the Mustangs had the momentum, the Panthers roared back, going on a 9-0 run to take the final set, 15-7, and the match, 2-1, to move into the finals against Talladega.

“We had our backs to the wall, and we finally decided that we were going to play as a team,” Robinson said. “We got into a flow offensively and defensively and did the things that we have been working on since summer.”