Panthers playing with the best

SHS is in the middle of the pack

Senior setter Ashley Law tattoos the ball in a game against Hydaburg.

By STAN BUSH
The Skagway Panthers volleyball team has found out that in order to become one of the top teams in Region V they will have to beat some of the best in the state. The Panther volleyball team finished the only home meets of the year with a 2-6 record and are right in the middle of a pack fighting for the last state bid.
The Skagway Panthers had a very uncharacteristic showing in the first day of the Skagway Invitational Tournament last weekend. SHS dropped the first match of the tourney to a very underrated Kake T-Birds team that muscled its way over the Panthers.
SHS tyrannized the T-Birds in the opening game. Savvy play by Skagway veterans frustrated a Kake team that was having fits with the aggressive outside-hitters of the Panthers. However, that was not the case in game two. Kake thundered back with resounding authority. Kake’s Danielle Knudson was everywhere for the resurgent T-Birds. Knudson picked apart the Skagway front row as KHS answered the Panthers challenge with a game two win.
Game three looked as if it had only been a continuation of the previous game. Down 9-2, the Panthers had their backs against the wall. The Panthers rallied behind the play of senior Crystal Ackerman and freshman Savannah Ames. With a second wind, the Panthers were able to close the gap and even take a one-point lead. That would prove not be to enough though. Kake was able to set up Knudson at the net in the clutch of the game where she had three kills to end the late Skagway rally.
Out of the pride of Panther veterans it was Ames, a freshman, who stepped up at the breaking point of the game. The freshman had some amazing digs, played taller then her listed height at the net, fielded well, and was very consistent with her serving. Her emergence as a player gives the Panthers an aggressive one-two punch with the power serving of Ackerman and Ames’s all around play. Head coach Dawn Brown was not surprised by the natural talents of Ames.

Panther players rally in a huddle on "Senior Night."

“She’s playing great,” Brown said. “She plays with everything that she’s got.”
Even with the loss, the Panthers were able to pick up an important win in day one. SHS dismantled the Hydaburg Warriors. The team’s communication was to perfection. The Warriors stood like statues as Skagway swooped over Hydaburg in an impressive win.
Skagway faced off against number one ranked Hoonah to start the second day of the Skagway Invitational. After a disappointing game one, the Panthers’s Colleen Ketterman had a huge block against Hoonah’s Trissa Barrows. That block turned the game upside-down. The momentum shifted, SHS came back from six points down to get a huge win in one of the Braves only losses this year in a game.
The magic was not able to transcend into the third game of the match. Miscues at inopportune times and a lack of communication killed the Panthers as Hoonah’s front row players were able to mount kills of their own. It is a problem that has plagued Skagway all year long and its origin has yet to be discovered by coach Brown.
“It’s frustrating on my part because I don’t know where it happens,” said Brown. “We haven’t had a lot of time in practice to work on it.”
That problem continued to plague the Panthers the rest of the day. The Gustavus Foxes were able to jump out early on Skagway the next match. While SHS was always able to make runs in the game, they always seemed to be too late to have any real effect in the games’s outcome.
In the closing day of the tourney, Skagway would hold nothing back as three of the Panthers’ keystone players were taking the court for the last time in a SHS volleyball jersey at home. The Panthers played with reckless abandon, sacrificing their health for the success of the team.
Skagway came out against Klawock with a raging fire in their bellies. Panther senior Kristin Brown had two amazing digs to keep a scoring rally alive in game one of the match. In the second game, the Panthers had a lead that was slipping through their fingers. With a single win as a cushion coach, Brown declined to use a time-out to regroup her players. She left it up to her seniors to regain control of the game and finish off the Chieftains. Brown’s plan paid off, the Panthers were able to silence the Klawock run with strong play from the SHS front row and the setting of senior Ashley Law.

Seniors Crystal Ackerman, Kristin Brown, and Ashley Law in a pre game ceremony during "Senior Night."

The final game of the tournament was as close as it could have been. Skagway soundly beat Tok in game one of the match. Ackerman, who is considered the floor general by her teammates, hustled to keep a fair spread between Skagway and the Wolverines. Tok responded in game two with a win as Skagway once again looked stagnant and suffered from communication errors. It was all only a build up for game three, possibly one of the best volleyball games played in Skagway.
The lead see-sawed back and forth all game. When Tok went on a late run, the Panthers answered the call with a rally that put them back in the lead. Law had gone on a serving streak and with the score 14-12, she had a chance on senior night to serve the game-winner. Frantically, Wolverines head coach Karla Helmer took a time-out, trying to ice the veteran team captain. Helmer’s plan worked. After the break Law sliced the serve off the side of her hand as the ball veered harmlessly out of bounds. That ended up being the last opportunity the Panthers had. Sophomore Katrina Presson of Tok brought THS back from the brink and served up the final point as the Wolverines delivered a crushing loss to Skagway.
This tournament serves as a precursor to the upcoming regional tournament December 8th. Hoonah truly dominated the playing field, winning the Skagway Invite with a 6-0 record, but Skagway’s coach Brown said no team is guaranteed that final ticket to State.
“It’s really a toss up for second place,” said Brown. “We played really solid against Hoonah, it shows that we can beat them.”
Regionals will be held in the lions den, Hoonah. SHS will need to emerge out of the middle of the pack to achieve their goal, symbolized by a small piece of paper hanging in the locker of each Panther players locker, “Region V Champions.”

Photos by Stan Bush & Jeff Brady