The top-seeded and defending champions Central Gas Panthers were out to prove that last year’s championship win wasn’t a fluke, and they did just that, completing a three-game sweep over the upstart Simmons Construction Lady Warhawks on Wednesday night at the D.W. Davis Gymnasium.
With the win, they earned their second consecutive ladies title in the New Providence Volleyball Association (NPVA), and Head Coach Jason Saunders said he expects it to be even easier in their quest for three straight next year. The Panthers prevailed in four sets over the Lady Warhawks on Wednesday night, 25-14, 25-13, 23-25 and 25-19. They swept the championship series three games to none, winning nine of the 12 sets.
Last year, they stopped the Scottsdale Vixens’ 15-year winning streak and this year they took down the Lady Warhawks. This was the first time in 16 years that the Vixens didn’t advance to the championship series.
“I am satisfied with the level of play and it can only get better from here,” said Saunders. “I felt that as the season went on, we improved a whole lot and indeed during the playoffs and championship games. This year is more gratifying than last year when we were able to stop the Vixens’ streak. Those young ladies over there stopped our perfect season and they celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl, the World Series or the NBA Finals. These young ladies of mine were prepared to show them that they are not on our level. Show some respect. So for us, this one is more gratifying.”
The men’s championship series also ended in three games as the top-seeded Warhawks swept the defending champions Tour Daddy Defenders. They came from two sets down to win game three on Wednesday, 23-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23 and 15-11. Game two of the series also went five sets, and in the first game of the series, they won in straight sets.
“We realized that they came with a different game plan than the last two games and it took us a little while to adjust. Once we did that and stayed consistent, we knew we could pull it off,” said Warhawks player and Coach Renaldo Knowles. “This championship feels great because of the brotherhood we have and we started from scratch. The last few years we fell short in the semis but were determined to change that this year. It wasn’t tough playing the defending champs because we figured them out all season and knew exactly what we were up against. We knew we had more weapons than they did. This one was sweet so definitely we want this feeling again.”
The Warhawks have been in the league for four years and this was their first trip to finals and first championship.
Rachel Knowles was the Panthers’ top scorer with a game-high 20 points (15 kills, three service winners and two blocks). Panthers team captain Je’Nae Saunders added 17 points, all of which came on kills. Barbara Kiraly paced the Lady Warhawks with 10 points (nine kills and one block). Sydline Justilien added nine points, all nine on kills, for the Lady Warhawks.
Panthers’ setter Leandrea Armbrister said it’s a sweet feeling.
“It feels really good because we were not in the mix for years, and to come back as champions for another year feels good. It was tough because we added new players and they had to get into the flow of how we play but it worked out in the end,” she said.
In the men’s clincher, the Warhawks were led by Chauncey Cooper and Donovan Wilmott with 22 points apiece. All 22 of Cooper’s points came on kills. Wilmott had 19 kills and three blocks. Jamaal “Swaggy” Ferguson had a game-high 32 points (27 kills, three service winners and two blocks) for the Defenders. Jesse Delancy added 20 points (19 kills and one block) for the Defenders.
The Warhawks won nine of the 13 sets in the best-of-five series.