PAOLA — Next player up is one of the things the Paola Lady Panther volleyball program has stressed all season.
Paola’s main varsity setter, Mikayla White, was sick for the Lady Panthers home match against the Piper Lady Pirates on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Freshman Maddie Pitzer, who had just set for the junior varsity team, walked onto the court for the varsity match and helped lead the Lady Panthers to victory.
“One of the things that has impressed me about the varsity girls this season is how they have embraced the ‘we over me’ mentality,” Paola coach Kirby Kenny said. “Our chemistry is great, and that has helped us to grow closer together and improve our skill this season.
“We have battled illness and injuries the last few weeks and these athletes are always committed to working together for what’s best for the team, Kirby said. “Making adjustments has been a big theme of our practices this year.”
Paola went four sets with Piper but fought hard to win the match by scores of 25-17, 18-25, 25-11 nd 25-16.
“It was a great win for us at home,” Kirby said. “The girls came out strong in the first set and, after a slip in the second, had a commanding third and fourth set. It’s always great to win at home, the crowd is energetic, the athletes are excited and it’s a great experience to win with the support of the fans in the stands.”
The Paola junior varsity girls won their match in straight sets by scores of 25-21 and 25-15.
“Maddie Pitzer came in after playing the junior varsity match and stepped in to the setter role and ran the offense at the varsity level,” Kirby said. “Part of our success last night is due to the current varsity girls welcoming her in and protecting her on the court so she could do her job as a setter.
“In addition, Maddie showed maturity and leadership on the court during the match against Piper,” she said. “We have set some very specific goals for this season, and it’s great to see the girls take care of a goal and move on to the next task at hand. I am really enjoying how focused varsity has been on those goals and using them to stay motivated throughout the season.”
As a special treat, as luck would have it, the announcer for the Lady Panther’s home match was Nancy Gagnebin. She was Maddie’s coach in fourth grade and sparked her love for volleyball.
“She not only taught Maddie the game, but led by example and her love poured through the girls,” said Melinda Pitzer, Maddie’s mother. “Maddie got her nickname ‘Maddawg’ from this lady, and it was fun to see Maddie play with her best friends tonight.”