It was a beautiful opening night of the 2019 volleyball season for the Knoxville Panthers Monday night on the home court. The Panthers took on Class 4-A and 5-A competition and didn’t flinch as they picked up three wins for their nights work.
The first opponent would be the Wildcats from Carlisle and Knoxville had a battle on their hands in the first set. But the Panthers would prevail 25-22. Carlisle had tied the score at 22-22 but a pair of hitting errors and a ringing kill by Katie Keitges put the set in the “W” column.
Knoxville then hit the fast forward button for the second set and rolled to a 25-12 win. The Panthers used long service runs by Amy Sullivan, Marley McKay and Keitges to put the second set on ice.
The Oskaloosa Indians would be the next victim, but it wasn’t easy. The Panthers appeared to have things going their way as they posted a 16-11 lead, but the Indians came roaring back to tie the score at 24-24. An Indian hitting error and a well placed kill by Tara Uitermarkt gave Knoxville a 26-24 win.
The Panthers again opened up a nice lead in the second set only to see the Indians, led by Faith DeRonde at the net, post a 25-18 win. With the two teams tied, it was overtime.
The two teams traded punches until it was 8-8, then Maggie Wilkins took over at the service line. Wilkins used a block by Peyton McMurray and a kill by Uitermarkt to gain a 12-8 lead. Then kills by Uitermarkt and Reilly Finarty along with a hitting error put the Panthers in the winner’s circle. Uitermarkt had nine kills and Amy Sullivan was 15-of-16 from the service line with three aces in this match.
The final match of the night would pit the Panthers against the Ottumwa Bulldogs and the Bulldogs came out swinging. Ottumwa was at game point with a 24-21 lead, but a pair of kills by Uitermarkt and a net serve tied the set at 24-24. Ottumwa used a pair of kills to take the first set 26-24.
The Panthers regrouped and used the hitting of Keitges, Uitermarkt and Finarty to roll to a 14-4 lead.
Knoxville kept the pedal to metal and finished the Bulldogs off by a score of 25-16. Once again, overtime was in order. The serving of McKay, Melanie Sullivan and Lauren Micetich allowed the Panthers to roll into victory lane with a 15-8 win.
Stat leaders for the Panthers over three games included; McKay with 62 assists and 26-27 serving, Amy Sullivan was 36-40 serving with 7 aces and 38 digs, Keitges with 18-22 serving and two aces along with 30 kills and 26 digs, Uitermarkt with 22 kills and Wilkins with 54 digs and 21-26 serving.
“I am just so proud and very pleased with our play tonight,” Panther coach Mollie Keitges said. “We played excellent defense and dug the ball so well. Our passing and setting was great and gave us many opportunities to make the big shot. Our Junior-Senior mentality really shows. The girls have gained that maturity by paying their dues from the experience of their earlier years. Our serving was aggressive and put a lot of pressure on the defense. And the big plus is that our kids play awfully well together.”