Class A final preview
No. 1 Panas (17-0) vs. No. 3 Pelham (17-3)
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: John Jay-Cross River H.S.
Key players: Panas — Jenn Braun, So., OH; Yvette Burcescu, Jr., OH; Sabrina Patriciello, Jr., L. Pelham — Olivia Johnson, MB, Sr.; Charlotte Krause, Jr., OH; Sydney Shotkoski, Jr., S.
Outlook: We could be looking at a potential preview of next year’s final. Panas isn’t going anywhere, and Pelham has just one senior in middle blocker Olivia Johnson. The Pelicans are also loaded with a crop of tall sophomores that should keep head coach Mark Finegan in plenty good shape through the end of the decade.
To give you an idea of how truly dominant Panas is, factor this: Hen Hud’s opening set win against the Panthers during Thursday’s semifinal was the first set Panas dropped to a Section 1 opponent all season. At full strength, the Panthers have not lost to a local opponent since 2014. Panas is the top-ranked Class A program and second-ranked overall program in the state for a reason.
Panas romped Pelham in its season opener, 25-12, 25-18, 25-12, which should also provide some insight into the match. I think the Pelicans have vastly improved since the beginning of the year, but I don’t see them taking a set from the defending state finalists. Pelham not only faced one of the toughest schedules in the schedule, logging 19 bonus points in just 17 regular season matches, but it won 14 of those matches.
The Pelicans were impressive at the four-team preseason Yorktown scrimmage, with some serve-receive issues being their biggest deterant. I haven’t seen Pelham since the Hen Hud tournament in early September, but a nice four-set win over Rye in the semifinals shows it is likely peaking at the right time. Pelham is one of the handful of teams that can match up with Panas’ height, but where the Pelicans have a handful of offensive weapons, the Panthers have a plethora of them.
Even if Pelham manages to shut down Tulane-committed junior and reigning Journal News/lohud Westchester/Putnam player of the year Yvette Burcescu, it still has to worry about Jenn Braun… and Lauren Feeley… and Melissa Lussier… and Demi Spanos. The Pelicans will need to have the match of their life to pull off the upset, but anything in volleyball has possible. Six years on this beat has taught me that.
Prediction: Panas is going to win this match, and it will almost certainly sweep. The only real debate is what the scores will be. The favorites have come out rather sluggish in many of the postseason matches I’ve seen, so if Pelham manages to take a set, it’ll probably be right out of the gate. Let’s say it’ll be a 25-22, 25-18, 25-17 win for Panas.