Resilient Panthers beat Tartans to defend volleyball championship

The McGregor Panthers were beat up this season but not beaten down.

The McGregor Panthers celebrate after beating the Wallaceburg Tartans in four sets in the LKSSAA 'AA' senior girls' volleyball final at John McGregor Secondary School in Chatham, Ont., on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Mark Malone/Chatham Daily News/Postmedia Network

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The McGregor Panthers were beat up this season but not beaten down.

They’ve overcome a rash of injuries to celebrate their third straight LKSSAA senior girls’ volleyball championship.

The Panthers have won back-to-back ‘AA’ titles after being the ‘A’ champs in 2018.

They defended their crown Thursday by beating the Wallaceburg Tartans 3-1 (25-19, 22-25, 25-16, 25-21) at McGregor.

The Panthers have only two returning starters – Maddux Swayze and Kerrigan Jacques – and both are among the team’s walking wounded. Swayze came back for the final after missing their semifinal with a sprained ankle and Jacques has a broken finger.

“There’s been concussions and just sprains and a whole bunch of injuries our whole season,” said Swayze, a Grade 10 power hitter. “I think our last practice was the only practice we had all 10 people there because of injuries.”

The Tartans had their own injury trouble this season. Head coach Kim Lucier was proud of their performance against the top-seeded defending champions.

“They played amazing tonight,” she said. “I think both teams did and I think it could have gone either way just depending on how the ball fell.”

The Panthers’ young roster is loaded with players who weren’t around last year. Despite the turnover, they lost only one set to a ‘AA’ opponent in the regular season.

“It was difficult at the start having a whole bunch of new people, but our coaches really got us working hard and our chemistry really built up,” Swayze said. “It’s just been going really well.”

Swayze has also been slowed by a shoulder injury, but the Tartans had trouble stopping her in the final.

“She’s very strong,” Lucier said. “They have a lot of very strong players, but she’s definitely a good player. She’ll match up well with Windsor (in the SWOSSAA final).”

The Tartans were trying to stave off elimination when they rallied from an early six-point deficit to go ahead 20-19 in the fourth set.

That’s when the Panthers turned to Swayze. She scored three straight points on two big kills and a tip for a 22-20 lead they wouldn’t lose.

“I actually haven’t hit that much this season because I’ve been out for shoulder and my ankle,” she said. “But once I got back in, it was just so exciting to be able to finally hit again.

“I think everybody was just playing off of that. It just kept everybody’s spirits up.”

The Panthers battled their nerves at the start, Swayze said, but they did well after splitting the first two sets.


LCCVI wins junior final

The Lambton Central Lancers swept the top-seeded Panthers 3-0 (25-17, 25-11, 25-18) in the ‘AA’ junior girls’ final Thursday at McGregor.

McGregor and Lambton College had the same record in the regular season, but McGregor won the tiebreaker to place first.