Panthers take care of Little Chute in volleyball match

Oconto Falls uses effective communication to win match in straight sets
Dustin Riese

Coming off of a hard-fought five-set loss to the Waupaca Comets to open Northeastern Conference play, the Oconto Falls Panthers were back on the court Sept. 7 as they traveled to Little Chute for another NEC matchup.

Sitting at 5-5 to start the night, it was the Panthers that got back on the winning track as they improved to 6-5 on the season and 1-1 in conference play with a 25-14, 25-8, 25-17 straight set win over the Mustangs.

“Tonight, each of the girls played at a level that will only benefit us as the season moves forward,” coach Rochell Otto said. “We dropped a tough match against Waupaca last time out and knew we needed to play with more focus and urgency tonight. We did that and the results show.”

Looking to start things off with a bang in the first set, the Panthers knew they had to be on the aggressive side if they wanted to send a message early. That they did as the presence of Amber Otto and Lucy Ripley up front helped the Panthers get out to an early 5-1 lead, and they never looked back. Otto led the way for Oconto Falls in the match with 12 kills while Ripley chipped in nine.

After Brooke Gloudemans and Kara Verstagen helped put together a couple of quick points that pulled the Mustangs to within 5-4, it was all Panthers after that as they ripped off seven straight points to take the 12-4 advantage. Sure, kills played a huge role in that, but so did the presence of Morgan Moynihan who helped set the offense up with a team high 18 assists.

Eventually, the Panthers strong play would help push the lead to 17-7 as the Mustangs were searching for answers. Even with a bit of a late set rally to try and battle back, the deficit was too large as the Panthers took the first set in convincing fashion 25-14 and grabbed a 1-0 set lead in the match.

As if the first set wasn’t a big enough win for the Panthers, set two was about as perfect of a set as you can have as the Panthers not only started strong, but they delivered a message in the process. Any time you can win a set without allowing 10 points is extremely hard to do, but when you played the way the Panthers did in that second set, you can see why.

However, things weren’t always sunshine and roses during the second set as it was the Mustangs who came out strong. Several nice defensive plays from Lily Harke saved possession for her team, while Gloudemans and Verstagen went to work on the offensive end to help give the Mustangs an early 4-2 lead. From there, it was all Panthers as they outscored the Mustangs 23-4 the rest of the set.

At one point, the Mustangs had things within 10-7 before the Panthers closed out the match on a 15-1 run. A big reason for that was the play of Izzy Otto as she not only played a significant role in getting the offense in rhythm, but it was her serves that gave the Mustangs fits. Izzy Otto picked up 14 assists in the match with half of them coming in the second set while also adding a team high eight aces. That included a large chunk of those aces during the Panthers 12-0 run to put them up 22-8 before finishing things off to grab a 2-0 set lead.

Knowing they needed just one more set victory to claim the match, the Panthers had one goal in mind, which was to sweep away the Mustangs. However, Little Chute had different plans as they put together their best set of the night and made the Panthers work for everything. Nadia Roemer played a role in that on the defensive end as she came away with several digs on would be kills to keep the possession alive for the Mustangs.

That helped set things up for their offense where setter Abby Van Handel took it upon herself to set things up for outside hitters of Gloudemans, Verstagen and Mckenzie Schmeider as the were finally finding holes in the Panthers defense. Their play not only kept things close in the early going, but had the Mustangs within 14-12 midway through that third set.

However, like all good teams do, Oconto Falls found a way to battle through adversity, and they did so by closing out that third set on an 11-5 run. Getting contributions from Bailee Gorman and her six kills certainly helped, but it was an overall team effort during that final set as the Panthers took the Mustangs best shots and prevailed 25-17 to claim the straight set win for their first conference win of the season.

When asked about what the difference was in this match as opposed to their previous match, coach Otto made it clear that the communication is what stood out.

“The biggest reason for our success tonight was the constant communication by the girls throughout the match,” she said. “Even when we were put in some tough spots late in the match, the girls never wavered. They stayed positive and put forth a great effort start to finish. These are the types of games that help us take away a lot of beneficial positives that will show up as the season goes.”