By Jeremy Schneider
Playing in their final regular-season home volleyball match of the high school careers, Maumee said goodbye to a small but influential group of seniors Thursday night.
The program had been stuck in a cycle of disappointing seasons and double-digit losses. But that began to change last year, when Ashlee Arndt, Chloe Bunce, and Jessica Perrault stepped into leadership roles for the Panthers.
They finished last year with 11 wins, their most since putting up 10 in 2011, so when they set forth the goal of winning 15 this season, no one batted an eye or doubting their ability to get there.
Now, after Thursday’s come-from-behind 3-2 win over Springfield, the Panthers are sitting at 14 wins with two matches left in the regular season. They’ll need to win at least one of next week’s games at Napoleon and Perrysburg to hit their goal before sectional tournaments start the following week.
There may be other players on the roster who post bigger stats but few have shined brighter as leaders than her three seniors, according to Panthers coach Lindsay Vannett.
“They weren’t afraid to step up and be speaking captains on the floor at times, weren’t afraid to address upperclassmen who weren’t pulling their weight,” Vannett said of Arndt, Bunce, and Perrault as juniors. “They did that knowing coming into this year they had their own expectations of this team and they weren’t going to let people slide by. They were going to meet their expectations, and I think we’ve exceeded their expectations.”
The Panthers won the first set Thursday 25-19 but trailed after the Blue Devils won sets two and three (19-25, 27-29). However, Maumee made the plays to win the final two sets (25-22, 15-12) for its sixth Northern Lakes League win of the season.
The win comes at a great time for the Panthers, who have won three straight matches after dropping four in a row over a two-week period. They’re also 2-1 this season in five-set matches.
“This is a win we had to get against a very competitive Springfield team,” Vannett said. “We had a two-week slump where we couldn’t put anything together, we couldn’t finish games, games we should have won. Getting some of our confidence back with (Bowling Green’s) win on Tuesday and this win tonight just sets us back on course for tournament time.”
Maumee filled up the stat sheet with season highs in kills (58), digs (113), and assists (56), while serving for 15 aces, its second highest total of the year.
Jolie Sobb paced the Panthers with 18 kills, adding four aces and 22 digs. Brynn Brown had 15 kills and 21 digs with team-bests in aces (5) and assists (33). Perrault had 14 kills.
Brown cracked the 300-mark for the season in both digs (305) and assists (329) while also leading the team with 217 kills. Sobb isn’t far behind with 185 kills and 212 digs.
Beth Brady led the team with 30 digs, and Bunce (14 digs, 2 aces) and Maddie Kontak (10 digs, four kills) also reached double figures.
Camy Wedge had 20 assists and three aces.
The Panthers have a young squad — sophomore Sobb and freshmen Katelyn Owens and Wedge are key pieces to the squad — but they still started the season 11-2. They’ve struggled to a 3-4 record over the last three weeks, with losses to Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, Southview, and Northview.
“We had a pretty hard conversation after our Perrsyburg loss that, Hey, we’re no longer freshmen, sophomores, or juniors, this is a varsity team, we’re going to act like a varsity team, and we’re going to play like a varsity team,” Vannett said. “The expectation is high now because of the start of our season and they have to raise the bar. They had to come up and meet our bar.
“Our young ones struggled to do that, and tonight was a night where they came out and didn’t struggle.”
Even with that mid-season slide, they’re still in a position to check at least one goal off their list with their win total. Vannett said this is the most wins the Panthers have had in at least 15 years and with that comes new expectations and focus from opposing teams.
“To show our league that Maumee is no push-over any more, it is pressure, and it’s pressure at times we’ve handled and at times we haven’t,” Vannett said. “There’s a couple of games I know our kids want back because they know they could have performed better and the outcome could be different.”
After traveling to face Napoleon and rival Perrysburg next week, the Panthers will play in the Division II sectional tournament; the brackets and seeding will be announced Sunday.