GLENS FALLS — For the first time this season, the Portville volleyball team met its match.
The Panthers’ run to 22-0 through the NYSPHSAA Class C regionals came to a halt in the state championships, first in pool play, then in the championship match against Section 1’s Valhalla at Cool Insuring Arena (Glens Falls Civic Center). Valhalla won 17-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-13 on Sunday, ending Portville’s undefeated season and its bid for a third straight Class C state title.
“They’re a senior-dominant team and they’re big, very big,” Portville coach Kelly Unverdorben said of Valhalla. “You’re looking at a 6-foot middle that’s got like a 30-inch vertical, it’s tough to stop. But I really thought that Laura Wilhelm did a standout job by keeping her calmed down at least, so she didn’t really have a field day on us or anything like that. So it didn’t go down like that at all, so my kids played extremely tough. They played with so much heart and passion and enthusiasm and we’re really young.”
All those factors combined to make Unverdorben sound upbeat after the Panthers’ season came to an end, just two sets short of a third straight state championship. The Panthers are set to graduate just one senior, Laura Wilhelm.
“So it was funny, usually after a loss, I do not like to lose and it’s such a terrible feeling,” she said. “But it was a weird feeling today, because we got done and I did not feel bad. I was just so incredibly proud of my team and how well they all played and fought for every point. They never let up, they just kept fighting and trying to get through everything. I just can’t say enough about them and how proud I am. They really were amazing, they really were so amazing and I don’t feel bad at all.”
Sophomore setter Kylie Blessing and eighth grade middle blocker Olivia Cook both made the state’s Class C all-tournament team. Blessing passed the 2,000-assist career mark on Sunday, bringing her total to 2,006 with two more seasons to play.
“We took second in the state and nobody really thought these could do much at all,” Unverdorben said, considering last year’s graduation of several key players. “So to go that far and do what we did this year and accomplish what we accomplished, it was amazing, and like I told them at the end, it’s really not about the destination. The old saying, ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination.’ There’s so much truth (to that) in what our season was this year.”
In total for the weekend (three pool play matches and Sunday’s finals), Blessing had 98 assists, 20 digs, 18 kills and seven aces. Wilhelm had 36 kills and 10 blocks, Olivia Cook marked 22 kills, seven aces and five blocks, Tori Unverdorben 17 kills, 18 digs and five aces and Olivia Emley had 49 digs.
Also making contributions for the Panthers were Taylor Beck, with 15 digs and 11 aces, and Hailey Keim, with 12 kills and 10 digs.
On Saturday, Portville defeated the first two teams it faced in pool play, Pierson/Bridgehampton (25-13, 25-14) and Lake George (25-12, 25-21). But then Valhalla took two sets, 25-12, 25-21, in the final pool play match, a preview of Sunday’s championship.
“They really kind of put those two teams away, and Lake George was a really good team,” Unverdorben said. “They had some really nice players, they had a well-balanced offense. So we kind of had to make sure we knew where that ball was going to be set and make sure we had a decent block on the hitters that were going to be hitting, and we served really, really well throughout the morning. The afternoon, we didn’t serve quite as well. Taylor Beck did a nice job serving in the Valhalla game, but we really weren’t scoring points off of our serve like we usually do. I think that made it a little bit tough, and again, they’re a really good team. So you’re going to have to serve well. We didn’t quite do that on Saturday with them, but today (Sunday), we served fantastic, they just passed fantastic.
“We’re young, it’s OK. We’ll swallow this pill and hopefully we’ll make another comeback next year and put in the time and work that it’ll take to get back, for sure.”