CENTRAL SQUARE — In a match-up of two lower seeded teams, the Panthers played like anything but an underdog.
For their effort, they earn a trip to the section championship.
Port Byron volleyball swept Beaver River 3-0 Tuesday in the Section III, Class C semifinal at Paul V. Moore High School in Central Square. The 10th-seeded Panthers bested the No. 11 Beavers by game scores of 25-20, 25-19 and 25-15.
Why was Port Byron able to come out on top and extend its season? For Panthers coach Stacie Hirsh, it's simple: "Because we're good."
Continued Hirsh, "We hit, we serve well and it's the attacking. We don't just tip it over all the time ... we go for it, we attack and it makes a difference. If you don't attack, you aren't going to win."
Nadia Edley racked up 13 kills to go with five digs and three assists, while Alli Ryan (three kills, five digs) posted a team-high nine aces and Olivia Martens (four digs, one kill, one ace) dished out 18 assists. Marissa Recckio added five kills and three digs, and Emily Ryan posted four blocks.
It wasn't an ideal start to the first game for the Panthers — a series of missed hits and volleys put the Beavers ahead 8-1 to prompt a Port Byron timeout.
"That's typical of my girls sometimes of getting way down by 10 or 12 points and then coming all the way back," Hirsh said. "They needed to get into the rhythm and they weren't yet. ... Little tentative, a little nervous, and then they see the other team and realize that they can win. Things just start to click."
The break worked perfectly. The Panthers rallied back to tie the score, 13-13, and eventualy won the first game by five points finished off by an ace from Alli Ryan.
"We were just saying (after the bad start) that this wasn't us. We knew that wasn't how we normally play," Edley said. "We came together."
Ryan stayed hot with her serves in the second game, leading Port Byron out to a 11-3 lead as Beaver River was riddled with misplays. While the Beavers gradually worked their way back into it, Port Byron won the second set by six points to take a 2-0 match lead.
In the third game, the Panthers' dominance at the net was evident. The combination of Edley, Emily Ryan, Alli Ryan and Recckio, with Martens setting them up, attacked the Beavers with strong hits over the net.
"I always look at the net to see where they play and where they're positioned," Edley said. "I noticed they didn't have anyone blocking our hits. We had a free shot every time, and when I saw that I knew that we would be better off hitting instead of tipping."
Fresh off an upset of the No. 2 seed — previously undefeated Little Falls — the Panthers rode their momentum to the section championship where they'll face another team familiar with dishing out big upsets in Sandy Creek. The Comets, the No. 5 seed, bested top-seeded and previously undefeated Tully in five sets in the semifinal.
"Even if we were to lose Saturday, this is a huge win for us," Hirsh said. "We made it to the finals and the girls are all flying high. We're just going to play, have fun hopefully and see what happens Saturday."