Providence finally got the measure of SoMeck volleyball rival Charlotte Catholic.
The Panthers, who lost twice to Catholic last year, turned the tables on Tuesday with a 3-0 win at Providence to take sole possession atop the league standings. Although both sides played evenly throughout, Providence (10-0, 7-0) found ways to deliver in the clutch.
“That’s something we were concerned about a little bit at the beginning of the season,” Panthers coach Stephanie Harpenau said. “We have a lot of seniors and juniors and weren’t seeing that consistently enough, but I think in the last two weeks we’ve grown tremendously.”
The Panthers’ experience and maturity were needed in the third set when Catholic (8-2, 6-1) was on the verge of breaking through at 24-20. Providence scored the next five points with Madelyn Craig serving, including a game-turning block by Kendall Bender to seize momentum. The Panthers clinched the 28-26 win and the match on an unforced error. They won the first two sets 25-19 and 25-21 with late rallies.
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“I think it’s a huge confidence booster,” Harpenau said. “Catholic won our conference last year, went undefeated in the conference and we lost to them both times in three (sets) and they beat Ardrey Kell in three. We knew we had to play a really good team. I think it’s going to get us in the right direction.”
Providence’s energy and defense set the tempo. Senior Becky Porter racked up 33 assists, Hannah Wheeler had 12 kills and Bender added 11 kills and seven blocks. Craig chipped in 16 digs.
“Blocking, we did a little better job than we had before,” Harpenau said. “We knew coming in their go-to players (Sarah Schweihs and Emma Mitchell) and we tried to key on them (a) little bit more and had a game scheme in regards to that.”
Although it’s only one win, it’s the kind of victory that provides a progress report as the regular season heads into the stretch drive. Harpenau believes the Panthers have taken a giant step forward.
“I think it was a matter of growing,” she said. “I think at the beginning of the season they felt a lot of pressure knowing we pretty much had a lot of players back from last season. It was a matter of being confident and realizing they were as good as they can be.”