Middle Park volleyball dominates in home-opener | SkyHiNews.com

Middle Park volleyball dominates in home-opener

Panthers senior Megan McCauley, center, and junior RJ Friesen, left, reacts after Middle Park scored a point against Denver West on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com

After graduating five seniors in the spring, Middle Park volleyball is rebuilding and reloading this fall.

Last year, Middle Park had a strong core of upperclassman, and the team found great success throughout the season by compiling a 7-2 Frontier League record and securing a spot in the state tournament.

On Tuesday, the Panthers were fierce, returning to the court after the short offseason and cruising to a three-set victory vs. Denver West in Middle Park’s home-opener. This came after facing Steamboat Springs on the road.

“This team looks different from last year, and we definitely have a different strategy,” coach Kelly Friesen said of this year’s squad. “They are a great group of hardworking girls.”

Middle Park senior Liz Hammond digs the ball in front of coach Kelly Friesen and the Panthers bench on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com

Of course, a lot will be expected of seniors Liz Hammond and Meg McCauley. Two offensive powerhouses for the Panthers, Hammond is playing outside hitter and McCauley is playing a big hitting role this year as well. Both have huge experience playing varsity volleyball and will be relied upon to produce.

Another key for Middle Park this season will be junior Ellie Holinka, who is running the office setting for varsity. In the back row, senior Kayla McKibben returns as the team’s libero, or defensive specialist.

Panthers senior Kayla Mckibben dives to save the ball from going out of bounds as Middle Park defeats Denver West in straight sets on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Granby.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com

As many of the Panthers work their way into new roles, others are stepping up into more full time varsity roles.

“Senior middles Alison Fox and Serena Stuart were swing players last year, and I am excited for them this season,” Friesen said.

Panthers senior Alison Fox blocks a shot against Denver West on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com

Additionally, juniors RJ Friesen and Aida Hester are new to varsity this year but should nicely boost the Panthers’ depth on defense. Sophia Gantt, a tall sophomore, is finding playing time on the right side of the court.

“This team really works together and does a great job staying mentally tough and focused,” Friesen said.

The Panthers return to the court Thursday night to face KIPP Denver before the Middle Park’s football game later that against Estes Park.

Middle Park junior Ellie Holinka sets the ball as teammate Serena Stuart runs toward the net on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, against Denver West.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com
Middle Park sophomore Sophia Gantt spikes the ball during a three-set victory over Denver West on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Granby.
Eli Pace / epace@skyhinews.com

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