Pelham’s season ends in Elite Eight

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM – While they won’t be leaving Birmingham as state champions or having made it to the Final Four for the third consecutive years, the 2019 Pelham Panthers’ volleyball team will be remembered.

A team that had to go through midseason changes to their entire style of play, this team stared adversity in the face and fought through. On Wednesday, Oct. 30, their season came to an end with a 3-0 (25-21, 35-33, 25-17) loss to 6A No. 2 Hazel Green.

“Getting back to the Elite Eight is certainly an accomplishment any time you get back, and we’re proud we got to be here,” Pelham head coach Perry Robinson said. “We worked through some issues this season to get here. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group for sticking together.”

When you look at the match itself, it’s not the 3-0 score that sticks out, it’s not the loss for Pelham and it’s not the win for Hazel Green, it’s the 35-33 second set.

A set that saw the Panthers kill off nine different set points to give themselves a chance at evening the match.

Starting at 25-24, Pelham went on to kill off set point after set point, and despite never getting the opportunity to win the set themselves, that’s the fight this team will be remembered for.

“They stuck together and played hard. I love it. Any coach would love it,” Robinson said. “We ran out of subs and had setters playing right front. Everybody was focused and doing what we asked them to do. Even though it doesn’t happen a lot in practice, the setters have all been through the front row and knew what to do.”

Pelham went on to eventually drop the set 35-33 and couldn’t overcome the combination of a 2-0 deficit and the physical tool it took in the third set, as Hazel Green closed the match out with a 25-17 victory.

That final set, however, was the only one that ended as a one-sided set.

In the opening set, Pelham played with a similar fight as the second set. The Panthers actually jumped out to a 14-8 lead and held a strong lead as late as 16-11.

But Hazel Green battled back to get within two points at 17-15 for the first time since it was 5-3. The Trojans then went on to tie it at 19-19 for the first time since 3-3, before going on end the set by winning six of the final eight points for a 25-21 win.

Early in the second set, the opposite happened, as Hazel Green pulled in front for a strong 18-12 lead, but the Panthers found a rhythm behind the serve of senior Erin Long and went on to put together a 6-0 run to tie the set at 18-18.

Pelham, however, was never able to edge in front, which led to the thrilling back-and-forth affair of the two teams trading points all the way up to the 35-33 win by the Trojans.

While the loss isn’t the way the Panthers wanted to go out, the 2019 team became part of a storied program that has now advanced to the Elite Eight for the sixth time in the last seven years.

And for this year’s senior class, it was a group that has made it the last three years in a row.

“All eight of our seniors contributed to what we’ve done over the course of time,” Robinson said. “They all found a way to contribute and help this team.”

For two of those seniors, they’ve been on the last three teams, as Long and Ashley Anderson each played a part in the three consecutive trips to the Elite Eight, as well as two straight trips to the Final Four and one state championship.

“It obviously starts with Erin and Ashley,” Robinson said. “Erin has been on varsity for four years and Ashley for three. They’ve set the tone and I’ll miss them.”

Those two, and the other six, have set the standard for the team moving forward, and with a loaded sophomore class and two juniors coming back, the Panthers are likely not going anywhere anytime soon.

“We have a lot of competitive kids in that sophomore class,” Robinson said. “Then we have two juniors that will be back as seniors ready to go. We always have a total team effort, and I like what all of them have done and bring to the team.”

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.