Twice as Nice; Panthers repeat 3A state volleyball championship

COEUR D'ALENE — Don't be surprised at your Halloween party this evening if you bump into someone dressed as a back-to-back champion because there are a fine group of Snake River Panthers who are exactly that after the Panther volleyball team accomplished their season long goal on Saturday with a pair of thrilling victories in the 3A state volleyball tournament.
"To be in the championship and then actually win it, there are no words for it," Snake River head coach Shelli VanOrden said.
As with any championship there were more than a fair share of obstacles to overcome en route to the coveted state title. For the state tournament those began on Thursday evening when senior Macy Martin came down on a team mates foot three minutes into practice, tearing the long ligament running the down the side of her foot and relegating Martin to head cheer leader on the bench for the entirety of the tournament.
After dispatching Parma on Friday evening, the Panthers came out Saturday morning for a rematch from last seasons title game with St. Maries.
St. Maries got on the board first with a 25-23 win in game one but Snake River, who has shown the ability to overcome deficits all season long, rebounded for three straight wins 25-13, 25-17, 25-17 to advance to the championship game.
"We started out a little slow like we like to do for some reason," assistant coach Johnna Lund said. "After game one we came into our own and played really good though. We felt that we had one of the better serving teams at state and St. Maries didn't handle our serves very well. We also knew that we had to stop their big hitter because that was really all that they had and our girls stepped up and did it."
In the semi-final win Jocelyn Harper led the way with 16 kills and 13 digs while Brylie Bair also cracked double-digit kills with 13. Scout Baldwin, Makena Shelley and Billie Gibson added 5, 5 and 4 kills as well.
As usual, dishing out the winners was Kenzie Taylor who had 33 in the semifinal while Shayla Christensen added 10 digs. Hannah Murdoch pitched in 8 digs in what proved to be a solid all around performance.
In the championship match Snake River faced off with Fruitland. The Grizzlies, took the first game 20-25 but Snake River roared back to take games two and three 25-18 and 15-23.
"Again we started out slow and in that first game we hurt ourselves with just too many silly mistakes," Coach Lund said. "Once we got going though, we came back on fire. Billie [Gibson] was huge for us in the third game she had 3 big blocks towards the end that pushed us to the win."
Fruitland were able to pick up a narrow 25-22 win in the fourth game forcing a deciding fifth game to 15.
Snake River got the early advantage in the fifth game by winning the first three points and then battled point-for-point with the Grizzlies, holding them off down the stretch for the 15-13 victory.
"Fruitland made some critical mistakes and on the fast score games, that's hard to overcome," Coach Lund said. "We really feel like Bear Lake helped us get ready for these state games. We knew that we could come back after a lost game and these girls never lost sight of what we were there for."
In the thrilling final Jocelyn Harper once again paced the Panthers with a huge double-double with 20 kills and 18 digs.
Brylie Bair had 10 kills while fellow sophomore Billie Gibson added 7 kills, including 3 blocks. Scout Baldwin also had 3 blocks to go along with her 6 kills and once again the offense was ran through Kenzie Taylor and her 38 assists.
Senior Shayla Christensen added 20 digs in her final volleyball game as a Panther.
"I have really good players and it will probably take me a few weeks and then I'll think, 'Wow, we did it again.'" Coach VanOrden said.