By Jeremy Schneider
From the beginning of the season, Maumee volleyball coach Lindsay Vannett has talked about her team being different than in years past. The Panthers showed just how different they were in the regular season, and they’re still doing it in the postseason as well.
The Panthers took another step in the OHSAA Division II playoffs by knocking off No. 1 seed Bryan 3-0 (27-25, 25-13, 25-18) in a district semifinal Monday night at Ottawa-Glandorf High School.
Now, Maumee truly is in uncharted territory — this is the program’s first appearance in a district final since 2003, when the Panthers advanced to the state final four. They face Toledo Central Catholic for the district title at 6 p.m. Thursday in Ottawa.
“All season, the girls have set these goals and they have steps to achieve these goals,” Vannett said. “This is another check on our list. They’re the ones doing the work, I just watch them come together and do their thing and enjoy what’s happening on the floor because it’s pretty amazing.”
But it hasn’t been as simple as rolling out a bunch of volleyballs and telling the players to go for it. There were plenty of new faces on this team, including a pair of freshmen being counted on for major roles, and established players taking on new roles.
“They embrace what we’re asking to do, they embrace the changes we’re asking them to make, and they trust us,” Vannett said. “You can tell they trust us because they try new things, they aren’t afraid to do new things when we ask. We’ve had to make some adjustments on teams we didn’t know a whole lot about and they adjust on the go.”
As the season has moved along, the final stats of each match bear out the fact that the Panthers are continuing to grow and become comfortable with their roles on the team.
Against Bryan, Brynn Brown led with 10 kills and 20 assists, adding seven digs. But other hitters also stepped up, like seniors Ashlee Arndt (eight kills) and Jessica Perrault (seven kills, four blocks), and sophomore Jolie Sobb (eight kills, 11 digs).
In three postseason games, Brown, Sobb, Perrault, and Arndt are all averaging at least five kills per game, and the Panthers are hitting at a .440 percentage with 13.7 kills per set. That balance makes them a tough matchup for any team they face.
“We have some hitters that were definitely role players that know they could have contributed more now stepping up and contributing more,” Vannett said. “We sometimes had four hitters that were doing their job and being a bigger part, but now all six are. That’s dangerous.
“You can track our hitting, but it’s going to be so different every time, teams are going to struggle with that.”
Maumee trailed in the first set but rallied to take the win. During that set, Vannett brought up the energy and electricity her team felt in their home match against Perrysburg, telling them that the fans didn’t create that energy, the players did.
After winning that first set, Maumee carried that energy over into easier wins in the second and third sets.
“By overcoming that deficit and really focusing on getting one point at a time until we finally hit that two-point spread to get the match, we talked about the energy and how they brought that to the court,” Vannett said. “That’s really what propelled them, they stepped up their intensity, their energy on the floor, and they believed in it.”
Next up are the Irish (13-12), who beat Defiance 3-1 in Monday’s second semifinal. And while no one on the Maumee sidelines will overlook their next opponent, are beginning to realize something else Vannett has said all season — take care of their side of the court and the wins will come.
“They’ve found a special chemistry, and that’s what you need in the postseason,” Vannett said.