Palo Verde had lost two games and was trailing 13-4 in the third to Centennial on Tuesday. So coach Greg Siqueiros gave his team one piece of advice: relax.
Relax? How is a volleyball team on the brink of being swept supposed to relax?
Yet that’s exactly what the Panthers did in pulling off a come-from-behind victory in their home gym.
Suddenly passing where they had been shanking and coming up with better hitting opportunities, the Panthers (12-3, 6-0 Northwest League) fought back to down Centennial (15-7, 6-1), 20-25, 13-25, 25-21, 25-22, 15-10, and take over to first place in the Class 4A Northwest League.
Siqueiros called a timeout four points before the comeback rally began and delivered a message fading teams rarely heed: slow down.
“We told them to just take it one point at a time and just pass the ball,” Siqueiros said. “That was what decided the match.”
Palo Verde did just that, winning 19 of the next 26 points to stun the Bulldogs and take the third game.
Centennial refused to fold, using a strong eight-point run late in the fourth game to take a 22-20 edge.
The Panthers had more magic in reserve, forcing four Bulldog errors and registering one big block by Tori Lounsbery and Melanie Gueorgiev to stave off another loss.
In the deciding game, the hitting tandem of Ainsley Lovejoy and Jovana Sisovic took over.
The duo, stymied by a lack of opportunities early as the Panthers failed to pass well enough to get good sets, combined for six kills and Lounsbery put an exclamation point on the win with a dump after a Centennial dig.
Lovejoy finished with 13 kills and Sisovic totaled 10. Twenty of its 23 kills came after Palo Verde trailed by nine points in the third game.
In addition to good offense and blocking, Lounsbery set a strong match for the Panthers, but also played a key role in firing up her teammates when the comeback runs began.
“Being a leader, you have to do that to be successful,” Lounsbery said. “You’ve got to keep everyone pumped up, keep everyone up, and make sure the other team stays as down as possible.”
Ashley Hill provided a high note for Centennial with seven aces.