VOLLEYBALL: Panthers sink claws into Pioneers chances

Porterville kicks off league play with a 3-2 win over Mt. Whitney, promising a heavy competition for the title of league champion of the East Yosemite League

VISALIA – The Porterville Panthers clawed their way to the top of Mt. Whitney in their first league game of the season in the new East Yosemite League. In a harrowing five sets, going point for point with the Pioneers for the victory in the fifth set, the Panthers finally secured their win with a 20-18 point score.

After winning the first set, it looked as if the Panthers may give it up in four. The Pioneers went on service streaks in both the second and third set, but the Panthers charged back with a fierce style of play that won them the fourth and fifth sets. Though the team is laudable for their technical talent and athletic skill, what is more impressive about them is their chemistry as a team.

“I see a lot of team players on this team,” Porterville head coach Lisa Davis said. “They want to win and they want to win together.”

To anyone watching, the Panthers are a tight-knit group. With much of the team made up of seniors, they’ve played together before and they’re not just teammates, they’re practically best friends. Senior Mylah Niksa even enthusiastically performs handshakes with her teammates on the sidelines when they aren’t starting a set on the court.

“When you see us, somebody coming out and somebody else coming in, you don’t see a sad face coming out,” Davis said.

The Panthers want the best for each other and it shows on the court. When their one freshman on varsity, Ryleigh Schoonover, was discouraged during the losing sets, her senior teammate Jaaci Patterson came to provide reassurance, and it was visible in Schoonover’s play. Aside from Patterson’s leadership, Davis also singled her out as a player who “kept [Mt. Whitney] off balance with her serve.”

It isn’t just the Panthers who are a close-knit team, the Pioneers are too. Due to an injury, they had to bring up a player from the freshman roster for the game and the whole team cheered and chanted for her with every play she made. The only difference between the Pioneers and the Panthers, it seemed, was in consistent serving.

“When we get to be a consistently serving team, we’re gonna see a different ending,” Mt. Whitney head coach Victoria Johnson said.

Even Davis admitted that the Mt. Whitney servers being consistent in the second and third sets cost them those sets.

“I felt like we still did a good job at not getting blown out in those two sets that we lost,” Davis said. “We were still able to come back.”

Mt. Whitney is new to East Yosemite after a league shakeup this summer. The four Visalia public high schools joined Porterville High School and Monache High School in the EYL for the 2022-23 school year. The matchup between Mt. Whitney and Porterville proved that it will be a fight for league supremacy this season and every team used their time in non-league play to sharpen their skills for league opponents.

“I’m super proud of the way we did,” Johnson said. “They really grew as individuals and as a team tonight.”

Mt. Whitney was 7-8 in non-league play and with one league loss behind them, they are tied for fourth in the EYL with El Diamante and Golden West (who also recorded losses). Their next matchup will be at Golden West on Sept. 22.

“[My team] showed guts and character and heart,” Davis said. “Everyone thinks it’s skill, skill, skill but you have got to have that heart.”

Porterville played more games and finished non-league play 21-2. Porterville is now tied with Monache and Redwood for first in the EYL. Their next game will be at Redwood on Sept. 22.

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