The Panthers were two wins away from making the tournament, and they certainly had their chances.
Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ volleyball team second-year head coach Ashley Balbian strongly believes her team had what it takes to make the postseason, despite falling short.
The Panthers finished the fall with an 8-11 record, which doubled their win total from the previous season, and put them two victories away from the playoffs.
Of those 11 losses, three times the Panthers jumped out to advantages and twice took a 2-1 lead into fourth the set, only to have their opposition to battle back and claim the victory.
“I feel like that was our biggest challenge once we got halfway through the season, we could be successful in many one or two sets and we just couldn’t sustain it,” Balbian said. “It’s a long stretch of time, but just keeping our energy up and positivity was hard for us sometimes.”
Balbian said the biggest difference between this season’s team and last fall’s club was experience. The Panthers returned nine players, all of whom received playing time at the top level.
“I had so many girls returning on varsity,” Balbian said. “They had been playing together obviously last year but throughout the summer. A lot of them played on club teams together, which was helpful. I expected that this team would do well.”
But what Balbian didn’t expect was the starting lineup she’d be penning in at the end of the season. All five of the Panthers’ seniors ended the fall as starters, which was not foreseen going into the season. Kayla Crawford worked her way up to starting defensive specialist, Kylie Gervasio became a starting setter and Erin Leahy started at middle hitter. Seniors Allison Hanlon starred at outside hitter and Nicole Scott at libero, and both were league all-stars.
“I’m proud of them for [starting] because I wasn’t expecting all of the seniors to necessarily be starting,” Balbain said. “I’m proud they were able to earn those spots in the end and play together really well. That was huge for us.”
Hanlon registered her 200th career kill in the final game of the season, a 3-2 win over Bridgewater-Raynham.
“That’s a huge deal,” Balbian said.
Balbian did have some players set to return sprinkled in her lineup as well with junior captains Olivia Martin at right side hitter, Lexi Connolly at outside hitter, classmate Ella Sweeney at middle hitter and sophomore Caileen Hurley at setter.
“I want to see them be more confident on the court,” Balbian said. “I want to see them play together as much as possible.”