Panthers could be the team to beat in District 4C

Story by
Richard Hanners
Photos by Bud Chenault
SCN Reporter

Looking forward to a strong showing this year, the Park City Panthers started “hell week” volleyball practice on Aug. 12 with “two-a-days,” head coach Karlee Popp said.
“I made them run a mile to get in shape,” she said. “There was some grumbling.”
With only two seniors lost to graduation – setter Grace Jacquot and libero Hailee Gregerson – the Panthers are the top-ranked team in District 4C.
“We’ll do fairly well, but we’ll be watching out for Bridger, RPR and Custer,” Popp said.
Senior outside hitter Tehya Ray, a First Team All Conference selection last year, is returning after playing club ball this past spring and attending two volleyball camps and a tourney in Dillon this summer.
“She’s been weightlifting and really improved her hitting,” Popp said.
Senior MacKinzie Verke, another outside hitter, was named Second Team All Conference last year. Last year, Verke led the Panthers in kills and digs in both the district and divisional championship games.
“She’s our overall best player,” Popp said. “She was No. 1 at our tryouts.”
Now in her third year as head coach, Popp sees the Panther’s offense and defense measuring up to her expectations.
“It’s early still,” she said. “We’ll be playing some B schools, and we’ll see what our girls are made of.”
Rounding out her eight starters are senior Shelby Branstetter, a tall middle hitter and blocker, senior Makayla Downing at libero, and two setters – senior Breanna Anderson and sophomore Blakely Verke.
“We’ll run a six-two offense with two setters,” Popp said. “Breanna can double up as a hitter.”
Blakely Verke stepped up as a freshman in last year’s District 4C playoffs when Branstetter was temporarily sidelined. Senior Shelby Kluth and junior Brittany Frank are still competing for a spot on the varsity squad, Popp said.
The Panthers took second in the district playoffs after facing a tough Absarokee Husky team for two matches in a row. The Huskies won the first match in four sets and the championship match in three sets.
In the divisional tournament, the Panthers lost two matches to the Roy-Winifred Outlaws and came in third. The Panthers never had a rematch with Absarokee, which took first place in the divisional tournament and went on to the state playoffs in Bozeman.
Popp said the junior varsity squad is also strong, with lots of able juniors, sophomores and incoming freshman. Some of them likely will contribute to the varsity during the season, she said.
Absarokee took fourth place at the Montana State Class C volleyball tournament – climbing back after losing a first-round match. The Huskies lost five starters to graduation, including three key hitters – Emma Chandler, Colleen Culbertson and Maisey Sheppard.
Returning to the court will be senior outside hitter Erin Campbell and 5-foot-11 senior Katrina Feddes; five juniors, including libero Emma LaMoure, who came off the bench last year to boost the team’s serving, and 5-foot-7 Haley Domitraschuk; and 5-foot-9 sophomore Mallorey Sheppard.
Reed Point Rapelje went 8-8 last year but only lost two starters to graduation – including Brooke Krieger, a First Team All Conference selection. Returning players include junior Destiny Ayers, a Second Team All Conference selection and dominating presence at the net, senior Cheyenne Gehnert, junior Nynah Bryant and sophomores Jocelyn Ott and Mercedes Hoff. Ott, an effective blocker, will be joined at the net by freshman Carlee Blodgett.

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