During her five years as coach, Stevens Point Area Senior High volleyball coach Julie Johnson has brought a number of very talented teams to the Panther Invitational.
In each of the previous four seasons, however, the Panthers went home empty-handed.
Players MaKynna Lesinski, Hannah O’Brien, Haley Williams and Mackenzie Rechner helped change that Thursday.
Not even Marathon — a frequent tournament winner — could stop the Panthers, who ended their championship drought with a 25-20, 25-19 victory over the Raiders at the SPASH Fieldhouse, and the beaming smile across the face of Johnson told the story.
“I’m excited; it does feel good,” Johnson said. “We have a new crew out there after some of the familiar faces we’ve had, so we’ve been working hard on consistency and team chemistry.”
With five players standing 6-foot or taller — Williams, Rechner, Lauren Gerads, Stephanie Chizzo and Kara Stutesman — the Panthers imposed their will a the net offensively and defensively.
“They blocked us like nuts,” said Wittenberg-Birnamwood coach Chris Nier, whose team faced SPASH in pool play.
Morgan Rechner and Arlie Buerger helped the defensive cause with 48 and 43 digs, respectively.
SPASH was just as dangerous at the net when on the attack. Morgan Rechner finished with 26 kills, while Williams added 24 and Gerads had 14.
A strong service performance throughout the lineup provided another weapon for SPASH, with Lesinski firing 11 aces, Mackenzie Rechner nine and Buerger eight.
And then there was Lesinski (46 assists), one of two setters along with O’Brien (25 assists) who showed an uncanny knack for dumping the ball over the net into open holes in the defense.
There was a lot of positive things to take out of the first week of the season for the Panthers, who ran their record to 5-0, in addition to that elusive championship plaque.
“They’re all on a mission (this season); I’m very excited,” Johnson said.
“I’m so happy to see how scrappy and hard they work,” Johnson said. “They’re fighters; they don’t give up on any point.”