Unbeaten Lady Panthers win tough battle against OHC-foe West Jefferson


Fairbanks’ Kaidie Carstensen passes the ball during Saturday’s tournament match against West Jefferson. The Lady Panthers won in four sets to advance to the Division III district semifinals.

(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)


Volleyball matches this season between Fairbanks and West Jefferson have been described as “death by a thousand cuts,” as far as the nerves of Panther Nation.

The Rough Riders have given the unbeaten Lady Panthers everything they could handle and more during two Ohio Heritage Conference regular season matches and again on Saturday during a Division III sectional championship battle.

The Lady Panthers needed four sets to down West Jefferson twice during the regular season and needed that many again on Saturday to advance in the post-season.

Fairbanks’ 21-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-16 victory tested the Lady Panthers’ mettle, but left the squad unbeaten in 24 matches.

“West Jefferson always plays us very tough,” said FHS coach Ed Marsman.

One of those reasons was the front line play of middle hitter Sydney Looby, who came up with a number of blocks and kills.

Looby was a big reason why the Rough Riders rallied from a 17-9 deficit to win the opening set.

The Lady Panthers looked pretty comfortable in the early going of the initial game, going up by eight points on a kill from Kelsey Thorbahn.

Looby altered the course of several Panther hits and came up with a block that pulled the Rough Riders to within 17-16.

Isabelle Fisher’s ace serve then tied the score at 17.

Fairbanks later tied the score at 19 on Kasey Carstensen’s block.

Sister Kaidie tipped the ball over the net for a 20-19 FHS lead.

The momentum began to firmly swing over to West Jefferson’s side of the net.

Looby came up with another block and smashed a kill to put WJ just one point away from taking the set at 24-21.

The Lady Panthers then sent the ball out of bounds for the Riders’ winning point.

“West Jefferson earned that victory,” said Marsman.

The momentum the Rough Riders held toward the end of the opening game stayed with them to begin the ensuing set.

Looby came up with a kill for a 6-2 margin before the Lady Panthers began to chip away at the lead.

Kaidie Carstensen’s kill narrowed FHS’ deficit to 11-10.

At that point, the Lady Panthers scored four quick points, thank in part to Thorbahn’s kill on a set from Kaidie Carstensen.

The Carstensen girls later teamed for a block that gave Fairbanks a bit of breathing room at 17-12.

West Jefferson went on an 8-2 run and took a 20-19 lead after an errant Panther block.

FHS regained the lead at 23-20 on a handful of Rider hitting miscues.

West Jeff sent a block sailing out of bounds to give Fairbanks a 24-21 lead.

The Riders tallied one additional point before Kasey Carstensen’s southpaw kill evened the series at one game apiece.

The Panther lefty picked up when she left off with a kill that gave Fairbanks a 1-0 lead to open the third set.

Megan King’s kill later pushed Fairbanks out to a 12-5 lead.

The margin grew to 17-9 and Panther fans might have thought things were going pretty well.

Those ideas evaporated quickly, however, as the Rough Riders fought back to within three at 20-17.

Thorbahn rocketed a kill that gave FHS a 24-20 lead.

Jenay Kocsis later set up Kaidie Carstensen’s blast that won the set and gave FHS a 2-1 lead.

West Jefferson jumped out to a 9-5 advantage during the fourth game.

Marsman has pointed out numerous times this season that his team simply refuses to panic.

The Lady Panthers continued with that mental toughness as they gradually pulled themselves up by the bootstraps.

The comeback continued as Kasey Carstensen’s kill gave the home team their first lead of the set at 14-13.

The margin continued to grow, eventually climbing to 23-15 on Kaidie Carstensen’s block.

Thorbahn tipped the ball over the net for the next point and an errant Rider hit ended the match and sent FHS into the district semifinals.

“We made some mistakes after we jumped out to the lead in the first set,” said Marsman. “West Jefferson (which was the No. 14-seeded team for the tournament) got the momentum going on their side and it’s tough to get that back.”

Marsman credited Fisher for part of West Jefferson’s swing as she camped out on the serving line during a nine-point run.

The Panther boss said his squad must limit that type of server to just one opportunity.

How is that done?

“By concentrating and communicating,” he said.

The Lady Panthers also made some hitting adjustments as the match progressed.

“We began hitting the ball more to the sides and away from her (Looby) in the middle,” said Marsman.

That strategy will send the No. 2 Lady Panthers into the district semifinals on Thursday (7:30 p.m.) against No. 6 Johnstown. The match will be held at Buckeye Valley High School.

The Lady Panthers missed only six of their 88 serves for 54 points. They also had 139 good attacks with 57 kills.

Individual stats were as follows:

-King: 17/21 attacks, 10 kills;

-Mikayla Mansfield: 17/20 serving, 10 points, 51/59 passing;

-Abbey Hubbs: 13/13 serving, eight points, 43/53 passing, 15/15 attacks, five kills;

-Thorbahn: 9/9 serving, 34/38 passing, 29/31 attacks, 15 kills;

-Brooklyn Kleiber: 10/11 serving, five points, 9/11 attacks, three kills;

-Kas. Carstensen: 21/25 attacks, seven kills;

-Kai. Carstensen: 12/14 serving, seven points, 46/49 setting, 20 assists, 12/14 passing, 32/38 attacks, 14 kills, five blocks;

-Kocsis: 31/31 serving, five aces, 21 points, 61/61 setting, 23 assists, 10/13 passing, 9/9 attacks, three kills.


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