Pelham takes road rivalry showdown with Helena for area win

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

HELENA – The Pelham Panthers recovered from a first set loss to win the next three sets, fending off multiple runs from their rivals, the Helena Huskies, to secure a 3-1 win on the road in the teams’ area showdown on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

“Any win on the road in area is tough, and I’m always glad to come out with a win no matter where,” Pelham coach Perry Robinson said. “But for some reason, the Helena-Pelham one has always been a fun one, as we saw tonight.”

Helena had a slight edge for most of the first half of the opening set as the Huskies had a 14-13 lead just over halfway through the set. Pelham responded at that point and won three straight points to take a 16-14 lead.

The Panthers held on to the lead until Helena took a 22-21 lead off back-to-back points. That proved to be the difference, as even though Pelham won the next point to tie the set at 22, the Huskies won three of the final four points to take the opening set, 25-23.

After a tight 4-4 opening stretch of the second set, Pelham went on a 4-0 run with Camryn McMinn on the service line, including back-to-back aces from McMinn, to take an 8-4 lead.

The Panthers extended their lead to 12-5 before Helena stormed back with a 9-2 run to tie the match at 14. The Huskies would immediately take the lead on the next point with a team block, which forced a Pelham timeout.

Pelham won back-to-back points out of the timeout to take the lead, but that would be short-lived as Helena eventually got out to a 20-18 lead in a string of points which included a Monroe Bouler ace and a great effort from Lauren Sively to put away a point after hitting the ball into the net on her first attempt.

However, Pelham responded well and took a 21-20 lead after Londyn Wynn kill gave Juliana Bitas an opportunity to win an ace on the serve. Pelham closed out the 25-21 set win with an ace despite a valiant Helena effort to save the point.

With the match now tied at one set win apiece, Pelham used the momentum from its finish in the second set to jump out to a 10-3 lead in the third. The Panthers would eventually extend their lead to 15-7 after a great free ball kill from Kamryn Rouveyrol.

A block at 16-8 gave McMinn another chance on the service line, and she had another strong run with four straight points on the line to go up 20-8.

That run effectively sealed the set as Pelham walked away with a 25-11 win in the third set to go up 2-1 in the match.

Just like in the third set, Pelham opened the fourth set with a 10-3 lead, but Helena would soon draw within five points of the lead. With the Huskies down 15-10, they closed the gap to just one with a 4-0 run.

McMinn’s turn in the service rotation led to two Panthers points and a four-point lead, but Helena would later tie the set at 21. The Huskies would then take the lead on a wild rally which included a kick save from Haylie Deifenderfer, a great dig from Presley Lively and a Helena block to win the point and force a Pelham timeout.

Pelham won the next three points out of the timeout to go up 24-22 and put the Panthers on the line serving for match point. However, Helena immediately broke the serve, and an Addison Dockery kill sent the set to extra points.

The Panthers battled back and won both extra points thanks to a floater from Wynn and a match-clinching dump from Cassadi Jones to win the set, 26-24, and the match, 3-1.

After the match, Robinson complimented Wynn’s contributions on offense, as she led the Panthers with 16 kills and earned a +.273 hitting percentage, as well as the team’s improvements as the match went on. He especially complimented the serve receive for getting better in the later stages of the match.

Robinson hopes the Panthers get off to stronger starts in matches and the improvements continue as the season goes on, especially with half of the region slate still to go.

“It’s hard not to reflect on the area because we’re halfway through, and in a week we go to Briarwood, so we’re on the road again,” Robinson said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better every day.”

McMinn had 13 kills, five aces and four digs, Jojo Miller earned eight kills and two blocks, and Caroline Hamby led the team with three total blocks.

Kylee Hester had 39 assists, five kills and led the Panthers in hitting percentage with +.333 and digs with 13. She split the digs load with Bitas, who earned 10 digs to go with her three aces.

Next, Pelham will travel to Northridge for a tri-match with the Jaguars as well as Tuscaloosa County on Thursday, Sept. 21. Helena will travel to John Carroll for a match on the same day.