It’s probably a safe guess that the birthday gift desired most by Lady Panther head coach LeQuia Collins and sophomore Elizabeth Purser would have been a win over Ponder in their bi-district match on Oct. 31.
That didn’t happen as the Lady Lions got a three-set sweep in the playoff match at Aubrey High School.`
“After the disappointment of that first set, I thought we could regroup and give them a better test, but it just didn’t happen,” Collins said.
The Lady Panthers battled Ponder evenly throughout the first set.
Aces by Micah Welch and senior Sadie Ingram got Van Alstyne off to a 5-4 start and a kill by freshman Torin Riddick answered a couple of Ponder points.
Junior Alyssa Hill sent in a pair of kills to keep the set close.
Ponder senior Kaylee Buell was dropping in some kills for the Lady Lions, and they built up a four-point lead midway through the set.
The Lady Panthers came battling back and a kill by senior Peyton Welch, followed by an ace by senior Shelby Litzkow tied the set at 18-18.
Buell and 5-11 senior Kellie Smith were answering for Ponder and neither team could pull away.
Another kill by Hill gave Van Alstyne a 20-18 lead, and two Ponder errors kept the Lady Panthers on top by two.
Purser had a block that fell in for a point, then a service winner that tied the set, 24-24.
A kill by Buell and an ace by Smith gave Ponder a 26-24 win in the opening set.
“Finishing games has been a problem for us for most of the year, and it all goes back to how young this team is,” Collins said.
Early on in the second set, the Lady Panthers were trading points with Ponder and the set was close throughout the early going.
Riddick had a kill and Hill sent in a winner to the back line that made it a 9-9 set.
After junior Janea Larriviere had made two saves to keep a point alive for Van Alstyne, the Lady Panthers built up a 13-8 advantage.
Ponder refused to go away, and a 6-0 run gave the Lady Lions a 14-13 lead.
Hill earned a point for the Lady Panthers with a block, but Ponder began to send in some winners.
Buell and Morgan Melvin had a combo-block that gave Ponder a 20-15 lead.
Purser sent in an ace after a Ponder error, but Buell put down a hard kill that gave the Lady Lions a 25-17 win.
A Peyton Welch kill, after a save by Litzkow, got the Lady Panthers off to a positive start in the third set and two Purser kills kept them tied at 7-7.
Those back-to-back winners by the sophomore were the last time the Lady Panthers could put together two winners or more in the set.
Hill had a kill and Welch and Purser each sent in late winners, but too little offense for Van Alstyne as Ponder prevailed, 25-18.
Van Alstyne finished the season with a record of 17-16 and 8-4 in District 13-3A play.
Last year the Lady Panthers won 32 matches and advanced to the regional semifinals.
In some ways the third place finish by this year’s team, while not as gaudy, shows a lot of promise for the future of the program.