Panthers, Mustangs write another chapter in volleyball rivalry
Middle Park proves too much for West Grand this year
West Grand had spurts, but Tuesday night belonged to Middle Park when the Panthers squared off with the Mustangs on the volleyball court in Kremmling and won in three sets.
“We knew we had our hands full,” West Grand coach Andrew Mericle said after the game, adding that Middle Park is a highly ranked squad in Class 3A and came to play.
In the first set, Mericle said, the Mustangs just made too many mistakes with a handful of errant serves and hits that went out of bounds and fell 25-17.
The second set was cleaner for West Grand, and the Mustangs felt like they had momentum with the score tied 24-all. However, after a short delay, Middle Park rallied to take the set 26-24. In the third, Middle Park was on fire and wouldn’t be denied, winning 25-14.
“West Grand came out a lot stronger than I had anticipated,” Middle Park coach Kelly Friesen said on Wednesday as she tipped her cap to the Mustangs.
Also, a limited number of spectators were allowed inside the game, and the Panthers and Mustangs fans showed up in force. Throughout the contest, both teams had strong, loud support from the bleachers. For West Grand, the students even dressed up in a possible beach or 80s night theme.
“The West Grand game was so much fun,” Friesen said. “It was good having lots of people in the stands. It actually felt like it should, and I think that was good for both sides.”
At the same time, Mericle commended the Mustangs faithful for doing what they always do and doing it so well.
“Our student body really comes out for us and they did again tonight,” he said. “The ladies feed off that energy, so that really helps. Middle Park had a pretty good crowd too, so you know, they did their own hollering. But we really appreciate our student body coming out like this and spending all that time cheering us on.”
The victory is the Panthers’ fifth straight and snapped a four-game West Grand win streak. After the contest, Friesen struggled to highlight specific players because they all did so well.
“They really all play so well together that I never really think that just one of them killed it; I see them as one big unit,” Friesen said.
It’s true. On Tuesday, it would be hard to say one Panther stood out any more than others. Still, Middle Park’s Dominyka Reventaite, whose the team’s most consistent hitter, and Bella Svoboda both had good games.
“Bella Svoboda, our little sophomore setter, I’m always super proud of her,” Friesen said. “This is really her first year setting, and she’s just a natural at it. I’m just excited to have her for two more years after this.”
For West Grand, Mericle was quite impressed with his squad too, especially with some of Alex Schake’s blocks and Audree Miller’s hits.
“When our passing game was going and our setting game was going, we had a pretty good attack,” Mericle said. “Our defense, we missed a couple reads, but when you’re playing a tough team, you really got to be on the move.”
West Grand is 5-4 in league, 5-5 overall and scrapping for position right now with rankings coming into play and every point mattering. The last time Mericle looked at the playoff picture, the No. 18 and 22 teams were separated by only five-hundredths of a point.
“It’s going to be really, really tight,” the Mustangs coach said of the playoffs. “We are probably going to have to run the table.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle will come when West Grand faces a tough Vail Mountain (7-2) squad tonight in Kremmling. The Mustangs are looking forward to having home court advantage, but know they’ll again have their work cut out for them.
“I think Vail Mountain is ranked No. 9 or No. 10, so we’re playing everybody that’s tough,” Mericle said with a smile.
On the other end of the county, Middle Park has compiled an 8-2 record and sits second in its league behind DSST.
Coming into Tuesday’s matchup, the Panthers were ranked No. 8 in the RPI and No. 13 by MaxPreps. Those should update today and Middle Park could easily improve in the standings.
However, Friesen and the Panthers are hoping to own their future by winning the upcoming league tournament that will likely be hosted by DSST, which beat Middle Park in the Panthers’ season opener.
Middle Park plays in Leadville today in what’s expected to be another good game. The Panthers will then face Pinnacle at home Wednesday to conclude the regular season.
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