Pelham wins area championship with straight-set wins over Briarwood, John Carroll

Published 9:55 am Thursday, October 19, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

PELHAM – The Pelham Panthers kept on rolling to claim another area championship thanks to wins over the John Carroll Catholic Cavaliers in the semifinals and the Briarwood Christian Lions on Wednesday, Oct. 18.

The win not only ensured that Pelham will return to the regional tournament on Wednesday, Oct. 25, but it also secured a one-seed and a matchup against region runner-up Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa.

“I’m just proud of the whole group, how they came together,” Pelham coach Perry Robinson said. “We’ve been through many different lineups, even changed a little bit this weekend to cover some injuries, and that group just kept going, and I like where they are right now. But it’s a total team effort as usual.”

The Panthers took the area title without dropping a single set as they beat both the Cavs and Lions by scores of 3-0. With the wins, Pelham closed out area play with a 7-1 record.

That lone loss came against John Carroll in the area finale, and Pelham avenged that defeat with a sweep in the semifinals.

The Panthers came out strong in the first set and took the opening frame, 25-14. From there, John Carroll made a comeback midway through the second set, but the Panthers still controlled the match and won the second set, 25-20.

The third set was even closer as the teams were tied at 22, but Pelham secured the match win and a spot in regionals with a 25-23 win.

After Briarwood beat Helena in a 3-0 sweep, the Panthers took on the Lions in the title game. Briarwood opened the match well and held a 13-7 lead as they carried forward its momentum from the semifinals win.

However, Pelham surged back to go up 20-19 and saw out the match with the lead. The Panthers took the first set, 25-20, and that set the tone for the rest of the match.

After a tight opening stretch of the match that saw the teams tied at 7, Pelham took hold of the set and went up 12-9 going into a Briarwood timeout. The Panthers would then go on an 8-2 run to go up 20-11.

Briarwood cut down the gap to six with a solid stretch of play, but Londyn Wynn’s kill on set point gave the Panthers a 25-18 second set win.

In the third set, Pelham took a 7-3 lead thanks to a 4-0 run. They held on as the teams traded blows.

Briarwood took back the lead with a pair of point wins to go up 13-12, but Pelham struck back with three straight points and eventually took a 21-16 lead into a timeout.

However, the first point after the timeout was one of the longest rallies of the match, and the Lions took the point to energize the visiting crowd. Briarwood then won the next three points to cut Pelham’s lead to just 21-20.

The Panthers responded with a 3-0 run and then took the match on the second match point with a 25-20 win in the third set to seal the championship.

After the game, Robinson said that he was proud of his team for overcoming the challenges that Briarwood presented throughout the match.

“We had a couple of hiccups there,” Robinson said. “But once we kind of settled in and did what we needed to do, controlled our side of the net a little better, we were able to put runs on people and just score points and stay ahead of them for the most part.”

He also pointed to their serve receive as a big area of improvement that he hopes they can take into the rest of the postseason.

“One of our biggest struggles, the first part of the season was just our first contact, serve receive,” Robinson said. “It certainly was a little struggle in the first match. It was not too bad in the second one, and it’s leading us to have a good offense, which is all we needed to do.”

Across both matches, Camryn McMinn had 29 kills, Wynn earned 22 and Jojo Miller had 12. Much of that was due to Kylee Hester in the setter spot, as she dished out 62 assists after eclipsing the 2,000 career assist mark last week. Wynn also took four aces from the service line.

On defense, McMinn, Miller and Caley Peterson each had three total blocks on the night, and McMinn had two solo blocks in the title game. Hester and Kamryn Rouveyrol both earned 29 digs, and McMinn took 26.

Pelham will face Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the opening round of the regional tournament on Wednesday, Oct. 25 in Montgomery. If the Panthers win that match and their second-round match on the same day, they will advance to the Elite Eight in Birmingham.