Panama falls just short of second straight title

Photo by Scott Reagle Panama’s Madalyn Bowen spikes the ball in Sunday’s four-set loss in the state championship. Panama was looking to repeat as state champs.

GLENS FALLS — With tears already flowing, seniors Quinn Payne and Gillian Figueroa embraced moments after the final Bainbridge-Guilford spike glanced off a Panama teammate and landed out of bounds.

State champions in 2016, the Panthers’ hopes of repeating were dashed early Sunday evening.

The Section IV champion Bobcats won their first state title with an at-times-dominating 25-10, 25-14, 15-25, 25-12 victory over the Section VI champions in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship match at Cool Insuring Arena.

“It’s definitely awesome to win a state championship,” Bainbridge-Guilford coach Tammy Selfridge said. “Panama is an awesome team. We knew that Saturday when they beat us in two games. We didn’t have anything to lose and they were defending their championship from last year. The girls just went out and played their hardest. Everybody was contributing today.”

The Panthers swept Bainbridge-Guilford, 25-17, 25-18, in pool play Saturday to finish with a perfect 6-0 mark, but Sunday was another story.

“We knew they were a good team. Today, they played lights-out,” Panama coach Tammy Hosier said. “You’ve got to give credit to them. They played a great game. Not many balls hit the ground and not too many errors on that side.”

Several Panama errors with Bobcats junior Zamira Caldwell on the service line gave Bainbridge-Guilford an 8-1 lead, which ballooned to 13-3 after a kill from freshman Erica Selfridge.

The Panthers got as close as seven points after a Figueroa block made it 15-8, but a kill and an ace from Erica Selfridge coupled with a Makenzie Drown block on game point gave the first set to the Bobcats.

Panama led early in the second set, but things quickly turned in favor of Bainbridge-Guilford as the Panthers began missing on their offensive chances. With Erica Selfridge serving, a pair of Panama errors gave the Bobcats a 13-9 lead. Junior Abigail Selfridge, who was ultimately named the Class D tournament’s Most Valuable Player, came on with a pair of kills during the second half of the set before Bainbridge-Guilford finished the win with Alexis Carr on the service line.

“I love it for all of them. Abby and Erica are definitely my daughters, but they are all my kids,” Selfridge said. “We work really hard to make this a learning experience. … This is something that will last a lifetime.”

With their backs against the wall down two sets, the Panthers finally broke through in the third set. A pair of kills from junior Madalyn Bowen gave Panama a 4-1 lead, which eventually went to 15-10 leading to a Bainbridge-Guilford timeout.

“I’ve got to give these kids a lot of credit, they did not give up,” Hosier said. “Everything was very positive. Many times teams lost two games and came back to win the next three.”

The break stemmed the tide for a bit, but three straight Bowen finishes and a block from sophomore Kylie Schnars put Panama up 22-13. With Payne at the service line, the Panthers finished the set with a pair of points, the final coming off a Bobcats’ error.

“That third game, we came back out and served a little tougher to get them out of their system,” Hosier said. “They weren’t able to hit hard at us and then we were able to hit.”

“We talked after the third game about relaxing,” Selfridge said. “We really didn’t change anything, we just regrouped, took some deep breaths and were ready to go.”

Panama was unable to capitalize on the momentum, falling behind early in the fourth set. Following a Panthers’ timeout trailing 10-6, Caldwell put down a block and Erica Selfridge added a kill to give the Bobcats a 12-6 lead.

“They did a great job covering their hitters,” Hosier said. “(Saturday) we were blocking them and the ball was going down. Today they were getting everything back up. I can’t tell you how many times that happened.”

Another Erica Selfridge ace and a kill from Caldwell gave Bainbridge-Guilford a 17-8 lead, leading to the final timeout of the evening for Panama. But the result was almost a certainty at that point as the Bobcats finished off the match with the final seven points, the winner coming off a deep kill from Carr.

“We really struggled,” Hosier said. “We would have moments where they were playing well together, but unfortunately it just fell apart.”

With Bainbridge-Guilford having just one senior and Panama returning 11 players, including four starters next year, it’s very possible the teams could meet again in the future.

“I would definitely hope that we would be here,” Hosier said. “Hopefully we can come back and meet them again.”

“We just love playing at this high level,” Selfridge said. ” … We love to win for sure. Winning is fun, but we just want to play at a high level.”

NOTES: Bowen had 13 kills and six digs; Payne had 26 assists and 10 digs; Natalie Angeletti had six kills and 11 digs; Alexys Marsh had seven kills; Figueroa had six blocks; Maci Johnson had 21 digs; Schnars had seven blocks; and Elle Angeletti had eight digs. … Bowen and Payne joined the Selfridge sisters, Carr, Section II Argyle senior Danielle Sill and Section IX Tuxedo senior Kiera Costello on the all-tournament team. … Panama was awarded the Team Sportsmanship Award by the officials. … Portville won the Class C title, Section IV Owego won the Class B title, Section I Walter Panas won the Class A title and Section XI Connetquot won the Class AA title.