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Black Panthers look to hit stride at Class B tournament

PLATTE -- The Platte-Geddes volleyball team may be one of the final eight teams playing for the Class B state championship this weekend, but the Black Panthers still see room for improvement heading into their biggest matches of the year.

Platte-Geddes middle hitter Jada Nelson (12) attempts a kill during a match last month against Parkston. The Black Panthers will play in the Class B state volleyball tournament, starting Thursday against Sully Buttes. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
Platte-Geddes middle hitter Jada Nelson (12) attempts a kill during a match last month against Parkston. The Black Panthers will play in the Class B state volleyball tournament, starting Thursday against Sully Buttes. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

PLATTE - The Platte-Geddes volleyball team may be one of the final eight teams playing for the Class B state championship this weekend, but the Black Panthers still see room for improvement heading into their biggest matches of the year.
With a team built on passing and defense to date this year, the sixth-seeded Black Panthers (25-7) are hoping to get their attack going during the three-day tournament, starting at 6 p.m. Thursday against No. 3-seed Sully Buttes (28-1) at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.

It's the first time that the Black Panthers have made the Class B volleyball tournament after making the tournament three times in the last 10 years as a Class A team (2007, 2009 and 2010).

Platte-Geddes coach Jill Kemnitz credited the team's offseason commitment to improving and their ability to gel as a team for why the Black Panthers are in the state tournament, becoming one that was strong enough to win District 11B over Kimball/White Lake and then Region 6B over Burke/South Central.

"They've matured a lot," Kemnitz said. "The group I've got on the floor really knows their roles and accepts those roles and plays well together. They have a huge desire to win. They're just a more competitive group than we had the year before."

Junior Jada Nelson said they learned early on that the team had a certain flow together.

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"We saw that we had a chance to be pretty awesome and I think that's kept us driven all year," she said. "We've kept believing in ourselves all year."

The Black Panthers haven't played any of the other seven teams in the tournament, which worries Kemnitz some. But the coach said she thinks they should be able to lean on their experience this year playing Class A opponents. Eleven of Platte-Geddes' 28 regular season matches this year were against Class A teams.

"We've kept that Class A schedule because those are good quality programs and we've seen those teams plenty," Kemnitz said. "We shouldn't be shocked when we run into good teams this weekend in Class B because we've seen quality teams all year. We're the only team that hasn't played any of the other teams, so it's going to be a new experience."

The winner between the Chargers and the Black Panthers will take on either second-seeded Warner (28-5) or No. 7 seed Harding County (23-7) on Friday in the semifinals. The losers will meet in the consolation semifinals.

The team has had a strong season passing and digging balls. Setter Jenna Erickson has had just 33 setting errors in more than 1,500 chances and has had 675 assists. Erickson said the team is better when they're flying around the court and chasing down plays.

"We're better when we're scrappy, when there's a loose ball and we're working as a team to make a play," she said. "We know we're probably going to need some of that this weekend."

Four players have more than 200 digs, led by Hallie Hallock and her 286 digs. Nelson has 249 digs, followed by Sarah Erickson with 223 digs and Alexis Peterson with 207 digs. Peterson has a team-high 275 kills, followed by Nelson with 241 digs. The two players are also the key blockers for P-G, with 94 from Peterson and 93 blocks from Nelson.

If there's been a weakness for the Black Panthers, it's been in the hitting game, Kemnitz said, with too many attacking errors. Peterson said they know the hitters are going to have to be out in full force this weekend.

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"We're really going to have to bring it with our hitters this weekend," she said. "We actually have some strong hitters, but we haven't done that well in the last few games hitting, so that's something that we're going to have to improve on if we want to be successful. "

Kemnitz said minimizing their own mistakes will be the key for the Black Panthers to have a successful state tournament.

"It's a big atmosphere and none of the girls have state tournament experience, so I'd expect some challenges," she said. "If we can keep our focus and handle our composure, we'll be fine."

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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