Since their opening league setback to Tyler Junior College two weeks ago, the Panola College Fillies look like a team on a mission. They have not only won their nonconference matchups against Brookhaven and Midland, but they've cruised to three consecutive conference victories.
When 11th-ranked Paris Junior College visited Arthur Johnson Gymnasium here on Monday, the Fillies worked in business-like fashion to dismantle the Dragons and secure a 3-1 match win - Panola's third straight.
Panola College (11-5, 3-1 conf.) came out strong in each of the games and never let the Dragons (19-5, 2-3 conf.) take control. When Paris would begin closing in, the Fillies would regroup and secure the win. Panola captured Games 1 and 2 - 25-22, 25-18 - before falling 23-25 in Game 3. But the Fillies came out even stronger in Game 4, recording the 25-19 clincher.
"It feels real good to get the win tonight," said Panola College head coach Nicole Thorn. "This was a big win for us. The girls have really been working hard and it feels like we kind of got the 'monkey off our back' as far as getting a conference win at home. Now we've got another important (conference) match here on Thursday against Navarro."
The Navarro-Panola College match will get underway 6 p.m. Thursday in Arthur Johnson Gymnasium.
Panola College freshman Samantha Nieman ran the offense from her setter position, posting 45 assists on the night and keeping the offense in motion.
The Fillies also had a strong night at the net, with sophomore Marcela Alves lead the way with 15 kills and a pair of blocks, while sophomore Josiane Santos added 14 kills, one block and 30 digs. Vanessa Gomes also had a strong game inside with eight kills and two blocks.
Defense was also the name of the game for Panola College, as the team had four players in double figures in the digs department. Freshman Nausheen Merchant produced 39 digs, while Francieli do Carmo added 12, to go along with six kills, and Carthage product Hali Turner finished with 14 in addition to Santos' total.
Panola came out aggressive at the net, building an 11-6 lead, with Alves using the sets by Nieman to record three kills in the early going. Nieman finished the first set with 10 assists as she enabled Alves and Santos to attack the net.
After Paris had tied the score at 18-18, the Fillies were not shaken as Santos scored a pair of points and Nieman served three points, which enabled Panola to stay ahead. The team traded points until Gomes ended the set with a well-placed tip.
"Getting the win in Game 1 was huge," Thorn added. "(Paris) is a great team and we knew they were going to come in here and give us their 'A' game. I thought we did a great of sticking to the game plan of finishing that game. We've been working on that a lot in practice and I think they came through for us."
The Fillies looked as much in sync in the second set as they did in the first, constantly turning back the Dragons in their effort to tie the match.
Paris led 6-5 early on, but Nieman continued to set up her teammates as the Fillies worked the ball and pushed it to the open spot. A key run came after Paris had tied the set at 15-15. Nieman scored on a tip and Santos followed it with two straight service aces. Before the short run was over, the Fillies led 21-15 and then claimed the 25-18 win to take a 2-0 lead.
"We won the serving battle, that's for sure," Thorn added, referring to the overall efforrt. "We had a great setup for our defense and our defense dug the ball like it was supposed to and us taking care of that first step went a long way toward getting that win."
After the break, the Dragons came out determined not to go home with a Panola sweep on their record. Paris scored seven of the first eight points of the set and withstood some strong net play by Santos (2 kills), Gomes (3 kills) and Carmo. Despite the Fillies coming back to eventually take a 21-20 lead, the Dragons scratched and clawed to a 25-23 win to battle back to within 1-2.
Despite the final game staying close throughout and neither team building more than a four point lead until Panola went ahead 22-17, the Fillies seemed to be in control. Alves then put Panola ahead 23-18 with a kill and Santos finished off the match with a pair of kills that were set up by Nieman.
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