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South keeps rolling with sweep of North

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Tenth-ranked Panthers beat Black Tornado to take slim lead in SWC title chase

As much as the South Medford volleyball team may know what could be awaiting them in a matter of days, they are also well aware of the fact they need to take care of the present first and foremost.

No better example of that was the final meeting of the season between South and crosstown rival North Medford.

Just as it did nearly a month ago over on the north side of town, 10th-ranked South Medford recorded a 25-15, 25-17, 25-17 sweep of North Medford on Tuesday night, keeping the pressure on its closest competition for the Southwest Conference title in the process.

“Just focusing on the present helps us get better for the future,” said South senior Katie Clevenger. “Knowing what we want to accomplish is good, but we need to start accomplishing it right now with practice and the games before it.”

With the win, South (17-4, 7-1 SWC) moved into sole possession of first place in the SWC, a half-game ahead of fifth-ranked Sheldon (15-4, 6-1). The Irish were straight-set winners over Churchill in a nonleague matchup Tuesday night.

The Panthers host the Irish in what is potentially the SWC title-deciding matchup on Thursday, Oct. 13.

Before that, though, South plays at Grants Pass on Thursday night and hosts South Eugene two days before Sheldon makes its way to Medford.

Sheldon’s sweep of South Medford in Eugene on Sept. 21 is the Panthers’ only loss to come outside of tournament play so far this season.

“The goal is to beat Sheldon, and if we beat Sheldon we win the conference,” said Clevenger, “so that’s the main goal. It will be a crazy game, for sure.”

Much like in its first league matchup against North (7-9, 3-5), South was able to take command early and keep it going for much of the night.

The Panthers pulled even with the Black Tornado at 8-all in the first set thanks to a kill by junior Brooke Johnston.

Moments later, South took control thanks to kills from freshman Mayen Akpan and Clevenger to make it 18-12. The Panthers closed it out with a thunderous kill from junior Lola Horton.

“We were passing, getting the ball over the net and slamming it,” said Akpan. “The bench was super supportive and I think it was an all-around good night for us.”

Clevenger led the way for the Panthers with 15 kills, four aces, four digs and a block, while Horton had six kills and a block. Akpan also had six kills to go with two blocks and two aces, while Johnston and Naomi Johnson had five and four kills, respectively.

South setter Baylee Davis recorded 34 assists on the night.

“We have a really good team,” said Akpan. “When we spread the ball around and everybody’s getting kills and they’re swinging, I think that we’re a really hard team to block. When we do that, nobody can really read where it’s supposed to be going and our setter is really good at distributing the ball.”

South was able to quickly change the tenor of the second set with Clevenger on the service line after the Panthers held an early 6-5 advantage.

Clevenger recorded five straight points while serving, with two of them aces, to quickly give the Panthers an 11-5 lead.

North got one point back before South went on another long run, with Akpan’s solo block putting the Panthers ahead 20-8.

The Black Tornado made a run late in the second set to get within 23-17 after rolling off seven straight points thanks in large part to blocks from junior Kylie Miller, freshman Kristina Atonio and senior AJ Brooks, but the Panthers were able to go ahead 2-0 on a Clevenger kill.

“(South Medford) put together little runs on us and we just couldn’t recover in time,” said North head coach Josh Elbert. “They got on a four- or five-point run and we can’t catch them and go sideout. It’s the youth on my team, the girls I’m serving out are sophomores, so I have to be patient.

“We were playing against a pretty savvy, high-caliber team and they’re one of the best teams in the state right now and you can’t take anything away from them. “

The third set saw another run from the service line for South that allowed the Panthers to get a lead they never gave back. This time, it was Sydney Boren who recorded four straight points to break a 5-all tie, as South was able to build its lead from there.

Kills from Clevenger, Johnston and Horton helped South go ahead 21-14.

“Running the middle was our biggest thing,” said Clevenger. “(North Medford) had bigger blockers on our pins, so running the middle as often as we could was big, and they were getting kills.”

Sophomore Makenzee Running led North Medford with five kills. Running and Raegan Boice both finished with a team-high eight digs, while Maddie Blake finished with seven assists.

“They’re a solid team, they really are,” Elbert said of South Medford. “It’s hard to find a lot of weaknesses in them and they serve the ball really well. They’re able to put a lot of pressure on us in terms of serve-receive, and then Katie’s Katie. Overall, I thought we did a good job against their other hitters.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

South Medford's Mayen Akpan makes a hit for a point during the second set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Katie Clevenger makes a hit for a point during the second set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Lola Horton makes a hit for a point during the first set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Naomi Johnson makes a hit for a point during the second set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Katie Clevenger pushes the ball over the net to close the second set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Mayen Akpan gets blocked by North Medford's Nana Silafau and Paije Carpenter Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Mayen Akpan pushes the ball over the net for a point during the first set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Naomi Johnson makes a hit for a point during the first set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Mayen Akpan makes a hit for a point during the first set againt North Medford Tuesday evening. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]