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Maxwell doubles last season's win total
It took just two matches for the Maxwell High varsity volleyball team to double its win total from last season.
The Panthers swept Esparto on Tuesday and ensured that the 2012 season will be better than last year when the team won just one match.
For the first few minutes the Spartans had the upper hand. Two aces, two kills and a batch of Panther mistakes gave Esparto an 8-1 lead and forced new Maxwell coach Dan Gellermann to call a time-out.
"They're not used to success and they're very fragile in terms of their confidence. You have this sinking feeling because you're not seeing that the other team has 17 more points to score, you're seeing that they're outscoring you at a ratio of 8 to 1," Gellermann said.
After the time-out, the Panthers scored the next four points and gradually the Spartans lead dwindled until Shelen Boyes tied it up at 15-15 with an ace.
With the big early lead gone, Esparto struggled to return serves. Jenna Powell took over serving with a 19-17 lead after an Esparto fault and didn't relinquish control of the ball until the Panthers had a 25-17 first-game victory.
"We started the game and I think we were a little tentative and a little nervous. We made a few good plays and got into our rhythm. I think we played better than we did last time," Gellermann said.
The two teams traded blows early in the second set but Boyes earned the Panthers a side out to make it 20-17 and Brittany Haywood followed with a kill. Esparto managed just one more point and Maxwell won the second set 25-18.
Maxwell used an eight-point run in the middle of the third game to build a 17-7 lead and freshman Taylor Perry knocked down the final kill for a 25-13 victory to complete the sweep.
Last year the Panthers struggled to be in the right place on the court but the team is learning where they need to be and communication is becoming easier, according to senior Lauren LaGrande.
"I think we have more of that natural drive this year, we're all upperclassmen now. We all have that drive and we want to get out there and hit and put on a show," she said.
Senior Ashley Azevedo didn't play volleyball last year after playing as a freshman and sophomore, but still led the Panthers with six kills.
The biggest difference she noticed between when she played before and now is the team's chemistry.
"We have good teamwork, we're all compatible and we get along. We just need to keep working together," Azevedo said.
For Gellermann, the challenge of taking over a struggling program has been lessened by the level of athleticism the players bring to the court and their eagerness to learn what it takes to play volleyball at a higher level.
"The technical and the tactical side of things, the way we circulate the ball within our team, it's new to them. But they're good students, they want to learn, they're smart, they pay attention and they make an effort," Gellermann said.
Boyes will play a critical role as the Panthers' setter but Gellermann, who coached in the Bay Area for many years, believes she has the potential to be a very good one.
"I think it's fair to say that Shelen is a good setter who is getting better, but she still has much to learn. She doesn't hurt us but somewhere down the road she'll be a big factor in whatever success we have," he said.
Boyes has many weapons at her disposal. In addition to Azevedo's six kills, Haywood and McKinley drove home four, and LaGrande added three for the Panther attack.
On Thursday, the Panthers improved to 3-0 with a 25-13, 25-11 and 25-7 win against defending Division VI champion, Champion Christian in Chico.
McKinley led Maxwell with eight kills, and Jessica Jenkins, Haywood and Azevedo each had four. Powell was relatively quiet with two kills but served a lot of balls that Champion Christian was unable to return, Gellermann said.
"Shelen did a good job of making the right set at the right time. She did a better job today and played within herself," the coach said.
The Panthers (3-0) return to action on Sept. 11 against Pierce in Arbuckle.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or email@example.com.