Panthers’ goals revised higher

Palo Verde’s girls volleyball team didn’t enter the season with designs on winning the Northwest League.

After graduating four starters from last year’s Class 4A Sunset Region semifinalist team, the Panthers assumed it would be an uphill climb to return to the postseason at all.

“We thought it was a rebuilding year at the beginning of the summer,” coach Greg Siqueiros said. “I told the girls, ‘We can’t expect a lot out of ourselves, but we can work one goal at a time and get it done.’ And they’ve come a long way.”

Such a long way, the first state title in program history could be within reach.

Palo Verde (29-6) opens the Sunset playoffs at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a quarterfinal match against visiting Bonanza (14-11). The other quarterfinals, also scheduled for 6 p.m., are Shadow Ridge (16-15) at Bishop Gorman (23-3), Pahrump Valley (19-12) at Centennial (23-9), and Faith Lutheran (22-9) at Sierra Vista (19-5).

Sunrise quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Tuesday are Eldorado (8-16) at Silverado (27-6), Coronado (20-11) at Valley (13-3), Rancho (12-11) at Green Valley (26-6), and Basic (10-14) at Las Vegas (19-12).

Palo Verde senior setter Tori Lounsbery said she entered the season dreading “this was going to be the rebuilding year.” Instead, the Panthers went 15-1 in the Northwest to earn the league’s top seed for the first time since 2004.

“It’s a good feeling, definitely,” said Lounsbery, who averages 6.9 assists per game. “It shows what hard work can do. We just knew that this year, we really needed to work hard to be successful.”

Lounsbery said a key adjustment early in the season was moving the other returning starter, senior Ainsley Lovejoy, from middle blocker to outside hitter.

Lovejoy, who averages 2.8 kills per game, has made the most of the switch.

“It seemed like our passing wasn’t as good, and we couldn’t move the ball around to the middle,” Lovejoy said. “Since I was one of the bigger hitters, they needed me on the outside.”

Siqueiros said the exodus of talent from last season also was mitigated by the addition of 6-foot-2-inch senior outside hitter Jovana Sisovic, an exchange student from Serbia who leads the Panthers with 3.1 kills per game.

Palo Verde’s leadership comes from Lounsbery, who Siqueiros said relishes her role as captain.

“Really, it’s been Tori who’s led the team and sparked some emotion in them,” Siqueiros said. “She’s helped out by just telling them, ‘It’s one point at a time,’ whereas last year we looked ahead too much.”

While the Panthers are focused on their region first, they know the ultimate goal is a state title. The only team from Southern Nevada to win state in 4A since 2004 was Silverado in 2007.

“It would mean a lot to me because my friends from club (volleyball) play for Silverado, and they’ve won that state championship,” Lovejoy said. “They show off that ring to me, so if I had a ring, that would make it better.”

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