Judging by their 3-1 league-opening victory over Freedom last week, Deer Valley could be a favorite to fourpeat this year. Asked about that possibility, Panzella said, “Talk to me in five weeks. I don’t know. Antioch is pretty good. Everybody is better, so we’ll see.”
The Wolverines lost three of last year’s starters to graduation, but have three starters returning: Taylor Higgs, Jason Agopian and Kurt Kline. “Which is a nice place to start,” said Panzella. “With their experience – and they’re pretty good players – that should hopefully give our younger kids and less experienced players a little time to grow into what they have to do and where they have to be.”
Two of the starters in the Freedom game were freshmen: opposite hitter Derrico Kwa and middle blocker Marcus Lee. Another starter, junior libero Brian Yi, has never played volleyball before. And Agopian, a 6-foot-6-inch third-year starter, has never played outside hitter before. “So we’ve kind of shuffled the deck a little bit, and there’s going to be a learning curve for these guys,” said Panzella.
That learning curve was evident in the first game against Freedom, which Deer Valley lost 13-25 due to numerous hitting and serving errors. But the Wolverines settled down after that, winning the next games 25-15, 25-17 and 25-19.
“Hopefully, we’re going to be a lot better at the end of the year than we are now,” said Panzella. “And I don’t think we are that bad now. I think we’re pretty good. When we control the ball and cut down on our mental errors, we’re pretty good. But we’re going to make those mental and physical errors – some because of inexperience, some because that’s part of the game; they make errors. I’m pleased with the way we picked up our play as the match went on. I was pleased that some of the newer guys got a few kills and made good plays for us.”
Agopian led Deer Valley with 14 kills and nine digs, followed by Higgs’ 10 kills, 10 digs and nine aces. Kline made 30 assists and nine digs.
Although Deer Valley volleyball could be on the verge of becoming Dynastic Valley volleyball, the last thing Panzella wants is his players resting on past laurels. He said he told his team “that’s ancient history. It means nothing. All it means is that everybody’s out gunning for us. So we are either up to the task and face that, or trip by the wayside. I think we’ll be up to the task. We’re hoping we are.”