HUTCHINSON — From top to bottom, the Ark Valley Chisholm-Trail League Division I is as competitive as they come.
Tuesday night in a triangular with No. 9 (KVA, Class 6A) Derby, No. 10 (Class 6A) Hutchinson, and Newton, a Derby team missing two starters walked away with two hard-fought wins.
The Panthers began the triangular with a 25-17, 14-25, 25-18 win over Hutchinson, then survived Newton 25-23, 28-26.
It’s been a wild season for the Panthers so far, but Derby is making the best of what it has at the moment.
"We’re missing a couple players because of quarantine; it’s our fourth rotation in two weeks," Derby coach Shelby Kraus said. "A lot of girls have had to step up and carry roles they haven’t had to carry before. I think some of our girls have learned a lot about themselves."
Derby defeated Hutchinson for the second time this season. Of Hutchinson’s five losses, two have come at the hands of Derby.
"Derby has a lot of height, and that’s something we can’t control," Hutchinson coach Maria Aikins said. "I think we did a better job of not being scared of the tall blockers and just hitting into the tall blockers."
Derby and Hutchinson found themselves tied at eight in the first set, but from there Derby went on a 17-9 run to close out the set.
The Panthers led early in the second set, 4-1, but the Salthawks responded by taking a 10-7 lead. Hutchinson forced Derby timeouts while leading 13-8 and 18-11, and eventually won the set, 25-14.
The third set was tight, but Derby was able to maintain a slight lead. Leading 21-16, Derby went on a 4-2 run to close out the match.
"Last time against Derby we missed so many serves," Aikins said. "I thought we limited our errors this time, but we just fell short."
Derby then turned around and faced a Newton team that entered the triangular with a 14-5 record.
The first set was tied at 10, 17 and then at 23. From there, Derby won back-to-back points to steal the set.
The second set was even closer, as the two teams found themselves tied at 16. The Railers called timeout down 24-21, then proceeded to win three straight points to tie it at 24.
The next few points went back and forth, but the Panthers prevailed, 28-26.
"We needed to win these two matches because we had a rough week last week," Kraus said.
Newton had defeated Derby two times earlier this season, but Tuesday night in Hutchinson was the first league match between the two teams.
"We knew Derby would be a tough match," Newton coach Jamie Dibbens said. "We have to learn from our mistakes every time after a loss, whether it’s coming out more focused or coming out with more energy. We weren’t going on runs in that game and it hurt us."
Newton rebounded with a win over Hutchinson to conclude the triangular.
Newton won the first set 25-16, but Hutchinson responded with a 25-18 win in the second.
The Salthawks jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the deciding third set, but Newton responded with a 6-1 run to take a slim lead.
The two teams battled from there, but the Railers were able to force a Hutchinson timeout up 16-13. The Railers forced another Salthawk timeout up 19-15. Hutchinson scored three straight points to make it a one-point set, but that was as close as the Salthawks would get as Newton won the final set, 25-20.
"It took awhile for us to get going in that first set, but then we started supporting each other, and once we did that our defense picked up," Dibbens said. "I thought our defense was very scrappy, especially in that last set."
Hutchinson had a hard time slowing down Newton outside hitter Asha Regier — an all-league senior — who finished the night with 30 kills, 18 against Hutchinson.
"She’s a stud, and everyone in the gym knows it," Aikins said. "I thought our defense did fairly well stopping her. Our game plan was to make sure and put a good block on her and make her make mistakes. She’s going to put some balls down, so you just have to try and limit her."
Newton is 15-6, 4-4 in league play, and plays Tuesday at Salina South with Derby.
Kills — Regier 12, Rains 9, Livesay 2.
Aces — Regier 1, L.Antonowich 2, O.Antonowich 1, Ybarra 3.
Total blocks — Regier 1, L.Antonowich 3.
Digs — L.Antonowich 12, O.Antonowich 6, Regier 5, Koontz 5, Zenner 4, Rains 4, Livesay 1.
Assists — Zenner 21, Regier 1, L.Antonowich 1.
Kills — Regier 18, Rains 9, Zenner 3, L.Antonowich 2, Ybarra 1.
Aces — Regier 2, Zenner 1, L.Antonowich 1.
Total blocks – L.Antonowich 2, Zenner 1.
Digs — Regier 21, Zenner 19, Koontz 16, Rains 15, O.Antonowich 15, L.Antonowich 14, Ybarra 7, Livesay 1.
Assists — Zenner 30, Regier 1.