VOLLEYBALL: Panthers start season strong – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

BEND – Understanding how tough competition will be in the South West Conference this season, South Medford volleyball coach Robin Akpan was pleased with what she saw from his team against opposition from quality at the Mountain View Friday invite.

The Panthers finished the round robin with a 2-1 record, beating Thurston (22-25, 25-10, 15-9) and Caldera (25-15, 25-16) before losing to the Sisters (25-22, 25-20) at Mountain View High School.

“We are at a good starting point for the season,” said Akpan. “I think starting 2-1 at such a high level of competition, I’m impressed with where we start.”

In three games, senior outside striker Katie Clevenger has registered 28 kills. Her best effort was in the opener against Class 5A Thurston, when she recorded 12 kills and four aces. Fellow senior Cameron Christian added 16 digs and three aces, but his six-point run on the service line in the second set helped change the momentum permanently in favor of the Panthers.

“I think initially we had some nerves in the first set against Thurston, but after those past we got really tough,” Akpan said. “It was fun watching the girls come into the system. I thought we had good ball control and good defending.

Lola Horton also had five blocks, while setter Baylee Davis provided 17 assists.

Against Caldera, Clevenger had eight kills and 11 digs, and Davis was big defensively with 18 digs to go with three aces. Freshman middle tackle Mayen Akpan had three kills and two blocks and Naomi Johnson added four kills.

The Panthers were coy in their final game of the night, which was also their toughest test against the Sisters. Clevenger finished with eight kills and eight digs, Davis had 20 assists while Mayen Akpan had five kills and three blocks, Johnson threw three kills and three aces, while Horton added two blocks and a pair decisive attacks.

“Clevenger was on fire and our setter (Davis) found all of our hitters and our last game of the day was a challenge for us,” coach Akpan said. “Sisters are a strong team and it gave us something to come home and work on. They had some strong hitters and we had to adjust to them and it was a little late for adjustment. But we will see them again and we will know what to do.

SOUTH SALEM 3, NORTH MEDFORD 2: North Medford had eighth-place South Salem on the ropes but the Black Tornado couldn’t eliminate the Saxons in a five-set thriller 25-23, 17-25, 25-23, 25-27, 10-15 at North Medford High.

North (1-1), after a season-opening win over Ashland, led South Salem (1-0) 24-20 in the fourth set before the Saxons – who made the Class 6A quarter-finals last season – can rally and take the final two sets.

Tornado senior Maddie Blake finished with 20 assists, while senior Olivia Stubenrauch and rookie Kristina Atonio both had nine kills. Senior Libero Amy Kloek had 26 digs and Ria Atonio added a team-high three aces for North.

North sophomore middle blocker Nana Silafau had a big game defensively, recording 7½ blocks.

CRATER WIN A PAIR: In Bend, Crater bounced back from a season-opening loss to No. 4-ranked Sheldon and picked up a pair of wins over Burns and host Mountain View to finish 2-1 at the Mountain View Invite.

The Comets (2-1), ranked ninth in the Class 5A pre-season coaches’ poll, played the Irish tough before falling in straight sets, 25-23, 25-9, then rallied to beat the Cougars 23-25, 25-19, 15-12 and Class 3A Hilanders 25-23, 25-21.

Senior outside hitter Kendra Bittle led the Comets in kills in all three games, finishing with 28 on the day. Fellow senior outside hitter Maddie Consina added 11 kills, while senior setter Kate Stidham had a combined 47 assists over the three games.

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