Tenth-ranked Panthers beat Black Tornado to take slim lead in SWC title race
While the South Medford volleyball team may know what might be in store for them in a few days, they are also well aware that they have to deal with the present first and foremost.
No better example of this was the final meeting of the season between South and Crosstown rivals North Medford.
Just as it did nearly a month ago on the North City side, 10th-ranked South Medford recorded a 25-15, 25-17, 25-17 sweep of North Medford on Tuesday night , keeping the pressure on his closest competition for the Southwest Conference title in the process.
“Just focusing on the present helps us improve for the future,” said Southern senior Katie Clevenger. “Knowing what we want to achieve is good, but we have to start achieving it now with the training and games ahead.”
With the victory, South (17-4, 7-1 SWC) became the sole holder of the top spot in the SWC, half a game ahead of fifth-seeded Sheldon (15-4, 6-1). The Irish were winners in straight sets against Churchill in a non-league game on Tuesday night.
The Panthers host the Irish in what is potentially the deciding game for the SWC title on Thursday, October 13.
Before that, however, South play Grants Pass on Thursday night and host South Eugene two days before Sheldon travels to Medford.
Sheldon’s sweep of South Medford in Eugene on Sept. 21 is the only loss the Panthers have come out of the tournament so far this season.
“The goal is to beat Sheldon, and if we beat Sheldon, we win the conference,” Clevenger said, “so that’s the main goal. It’s going to be a crazy game, for sure.
Much like in their league opener against North (7-9, 3-5), South was able to take command early and hold it for much of the night.
The Panthers tied the Black Tornado at 8-all in the first set thanks to a kill from junior Brooke Johnston.
Moments later, South took control through wins by freshmen Mayen Akpan and Clevenger to make it 18-12. The Panthers closed it out with a thunderous kill from junior Lola Horton.
“We were passing, sending the ball over the net and slamming it,” Akpan said. “The bench was super supportive and I think it was a good night for us.”
Clevenger led the way for the Panthers with 15 kills, four aces, four digs and a block, while Horton had six kills and a block. Akpan also had six kills with two blocks and two aces, while Johnston and Naomi Johnson had five and four kills respectively.
South setter Baylee Davis recorded 34 assists on the night.
“We have a very good team,” Akpan said. “When we distribute the ball and everyone gets killed and they swing, I think we’re a really tough team to block. When we do that, nobody can really read where they’re supposed to go and our passer is really good at distributing the ball.
South was able to change the tenor of the second set quickly with Clevenger on the service line after the Panthers had an early 6-5 advantage.
Clevenger recorded five straight points on serve, including two aces, to quickly give the Panthers an 11-5 lead.
North salvaged a point before South went on another long run, with Akpan’s solo block giving the Panthers a 20-8 lead.
The Black Tornado raced late in the second set to go 23-17 after earning seven straight points thanks in large part to blocks from junior Kylie Miller, rookie Kristina Atonio and senior AJ Brooks, but the Panthers were able to move on. 2-0 on a Clevenger kill.
“(South Medford) set us up on little runs and we just couldn’t recover in time,” North head coach Josh Elbert said. “They’ve had a run of four or five points and we can’t catch them and pull out. They are the young people on my team, the girls I serve are in their second year, so I have to be patient.
“We were playing against a pretty savvy, high caliber team and they’re one of the best teams in the state right now and you can’t take anything away from them. “
The third set saw another run from the service line for South which gave the Panthers a lead they never returned. This time it was Sydney Boren who recorded four straight points to break a tie at 5, as South were able to build their lead from there.
Victories for Clevenger, Johnston and Horton helped South go ahead 21-14.
“Running through the middle was our biggest thing,” Clevenger said. “(North Medford) had bigger blockers on our pins, so running down the middle as often as possible was big, and they were getting takedowns.”
Sophomore Makenzee Running led North Medford with five wins. Running and Raegan Boice both finished with a team-high eight digs, while Maddie Blake finished with seven assists.
“They’re a solid team, really,” Elbert said of South Medford. “It’s hard to find a lot of weaknesses in them and they serve the ball very well. They’re able to put a lot of pressure on us in terms of serving-receiving and then Katie’s Katie. Overall I think we did some good job against their other hitters.
Contact reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.
South Medford’s Mayen Akpan hits for a run in the second set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Katie Clevenger hits for a run in the second set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Lola Horton hits for a run in the first set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Naomi Johnson hits for a run in the second set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Katie Clevenger pushes the ball over the net to close out the second set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Mayen Akpan is blocked by North Medford’s Nana Silafau and Paije Carpenter on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Mayen Akpan drives the ball over the net for a point in the first set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Naomi Johnson hits for a run in the first set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford’s Mayen Akpan hits for a run in the first set against North Medford on Tuesday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]