The Portland Lady Panthers won their fifth consecutive district championship over Macon County in straight sets Thursday night.
The Lady Panthers took the court in the championship game after defeating Springfield in straight sets earlier in the night. The Tigerettes only had a 30-minute break following their five-set thrilling win over No. 2 seed White House Heritage.
“It was tough,” MCHS head coach Brooke Smith said. “My girls were very tired. They really struggled trying to finish that game. Portland is a very good team. They are a very strong team, and to beat Portland, you have to be on the top of your game. You can't be tired. You can't be worn out, and we were.”
Portland head coach Rob Lesemann was pleased with his team’s performance but sees places where his team can grow, including how to play in a tournament atmosphere.
“I think we've got a lot of room for improvement,” Lesemann said. “I've seen us play better than we did tonight, but you know, it's nerves in these tournaments, and they've got to learn to deal with those. We didn't play many tournaments like we normally would, so we're not used to being in a finals or a semi-finals of a tournament. I think we learned a lot tonight.”
Portland senior middle Savannah Pippin was named the District 11-AA Most Valuable Player after the tournament. Lesemann says her talent is undeniable, but she also makes everyone around her better.
“She's a beast on the net, and she has ability to take games over when she wants to and when we can get the ball to her,” Lesemann said. “She makes me look like a good coach sometimes, and we're gonna miss her [next year], you know. She's helped my other middles a lot, helped them become a lot better. She's been a good leader, and obviously, she's a good hitter, really good blocker.”
Pippin has wanted the honor since her first year on the team. After the departure of three senior leaders last season, she was able to step up and lead her team.
“It's something that I've really looked forward to since freshman year starting varsity,” Pippin said. “It's something that I've really wanted ever since I stepped onto this court, ever since I started volleyball.
“I want to be that person that everyone looks up to. I want to be that person that people count on, that they can depend on, that person to get the ball over and get it down. It just really means a lot to me that all the coaches and everyone think that I deserve this.”
Pippin has been a part of the Portland team that has been to the state championship every year since her freshman year. The team has lost some pieces but still has hope of a deep run.
“I know it's gonna be different from what it has been in the past,” Pippin said. “We're definitely gonna have to fight a lot harder than we have in the past because we lost a lot of valuable players, but I know that it will be well worth it once we get there. We just have to play as a team and work together, and it'll be really good.”
Portland will play Creek Wood at Camden High School at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night. Lesemann has been here many times before and knows the challenge that awaits his team.
“I know Camden and Creek Wood; they're both good teams and are both pretty even,” Lesemann said. “You get to this point in the year everybody's got hitters. You’ve just got to play really good defense. You've got to have a complete game.”