CORTLANDT MANOR – When Panas won the Brown and Gold tournament at Clarkstown South earlier this year, the Panthers were without head coach Joe Felipe during pool play.
The Panthers played without five starters during pool play Saturday en route to defending their championship at their tournament, the Panther Invitational.
“During the week I was thinking about (the tournament), too, but I knew academics is first, always,” said tournament MVP Yvette Burcescu, who was one of several Panas players taking PSAT exams Saturday morning. “Academics is what’s going to get you far in life. Volleyball can bring you so far, it can get you that academics, but that’s as far as you’ll get.”
The absence of starters did little to deter the Panthers, who swept second-seeded Smithtown East in the final, 27-25, 25-21, to polish off an undefeated showing at the tournament.
Panas competes in a number of tournaments throughout the season, but Felipe said there is a source of pride to win your own tournament.
“Sometimes when you go to a tournament they haven’t won, that motivates you as well, and they have won this tournament,” Felipe said. “But of course, it’s our home tournament, the girls get excited and it was an exciting final.”
Senior setter Julianna Bottarini and senior hitter Melissa Lussier rounded out the all-tournament team from Panas.
Smithtown East squeaked by lohud-ranked teams Hen Hud and Pawling in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. The Bulls won the best-of-three match against third-seeded Pawling by a 15-12 score in the decisive third set.
Hen Hud was arguably the most surprising team of the tournament. The Sailors topped Yorktown in the play-in round to secure a spot in the gold bracket despite missing one of their top players in junior Zoe Staats, who is out for at least another week with a stress fracture in her left fibula.
The win avenged a four-set loss to the Huskers on Thursday.
The resilient Sailors squad nearly knocked off Smithtown East in the quarterfinal, 19-25, 25-18, but a missed touch call turned what should’ve been the match-tying point for Hen Hud into a match-clinching point for Smithtown East.
Sailors head coach Diane Swertfager was given a red card for unsportsmanlike conduct midway through the second set for arguing a call, which cost the Sailors a point.
Quarterfinal matches were two sets long, with point differential serving as the tiebreaker. The semifinals and final were all best-of-three matches.