The Massaponax volleyball team had a throng of well-wishers awaiting them at the end of the Region 6B semifinals Thursday night.

The Panthers had just defeated Patriot 3–0 (25–20, 25–17, 25–20) to advance to the region title game and secure a bid to the Class 6 state tournament in their first year up from Class 5.

Massaponax athletic director Stan Clements and others gave the Panthers high-fives as they exited the court.

Head coach Joe Cox implored the team to line up for a photograph in front of the net as he hollered “Hey girls, we’re going to states.”

It’s just the second state tournament appearance in the Panthers’ history. Massaponax qualified for the Class 5 tournament last fall.

The Panthers (15–4) will visit Battlefield—3–1 winners over Colonial Forge Thursday—in the region championship game on Tuesday.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Massaponax senior Imani Lewis said. “It’s all positivity and happiness right now. We wanted this really, really bad. So to be able to finish it out and get to the regional final is good.”

Mackenzie Green had 13 kills and 11 digs for the Panthers. Mya Green recorded 28 assists and seven digs. Lewis provided 11 kills. Kimberly Dishman and Shelby Lam had 14 and eight digs, respectively.

The Panthers’ fast pace was a problem for the Pioneers (12–11), who hail from Nokesville in Prince William County.

Cox has used the FAST acronym as a motto for his squad this season because it doesn’t have imposing physical gifts.

It stands for Focused, Aggressive, Smart and Together.

It immediately put Patriot back on its heels.

After dropping the first game, the Pioneers fell behind by as many as nine points in Game 2. The Panthers led all the way through the final game.

“Massaponax runs one of the quickest offense that I think we’ve seen out of anybody that we’ve faced this season,” Patriot head coach Katie Swanson said.

Swanson’s team put up a fight at the end.

The Panthers had a six-point lead in Game 3 that was cut to 23–20. The Pioneers thought they had pulled within 23–21 and the scoreboard was changed to reflect that. But game officials had a discussion and ruled that a Patriot player was in violation when they crossed over the net when delivering the point.

So a two-point deficit was changed to four and match point.

“It’s the up-ref’s call to see if the plane of the net has been broken,” Swanson said. “The down-ref called it and there’s nothing you can do when the refs call certain things. It just didn’t go in our favor.”

The Panthers will now get ready to face Battlefield. Massaponax went 1–1 against Colonial Forge in the regular season, but Cox said there was no preference on which team it would face next.

Cox said the Panthers’ backups make for lively competition in practices and that carries over to matches. He also said Massaponax is battle-tested after playing in the rugged Commonwealth District with Colonial Forge and last year’s Class 5 runner-up North Stafford, among others.

“I think what you’ll see is when you look at how all the teams in our district do in the region is that Fredericksburg-area volleyball is really good,” Cox said. “We can compete with anyone in the state. We proved that this week. Whoever we play next, all I know is my girls are going to give everything they have, on every rally, over and over again because that’s what we’re about.”

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Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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