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Prep Volleyball: Siloam Springs rallies around coach, past Van Buren

Siloam Springs got an inspirational lift in Tuesday’s 7A/6A-West volleyball match against Van Buren.

The Lady Panthers, bolstered by the presence of their longtime coach Rose Cheek, fought off the Pointerettes in four games for a 26-28, 25-15, 25-23, 25-20 win. Cheek, who has led the Lady Panthers to multiple state championships, was making her first appearance on the bench after being diagnosed with colon cancer during the offseason.

Assistant Joellen Wright, who has been coaching the team in Cheek’s absence, said Cheek had a colonoscopy on Monday and was cleared to join the team. Wright said Cheek — who has attended several of the Lady Panthers’ home games — is at the moment 100-percent cancer free.

“We just found out about it (Monday) afternoon that she was going to get released, so they were excited, they greeted her with hugs and hellos. … It was a shot in the arm, she’s the spark plug over here on the bench with us,” Wright said.

The Pointerettes had some incentive in Tuesday’s match as well, playing in their season finale. Van Buren (11-16, 2-12) held off Siloam in a seesaw opening game and finally scored the last two points on a Lady Panthers hitting error followed by a kill from sophomore Emily Estes.

“Van Buren just played really well and took us out of our passing,” Wright said. “When we pass, we’re good to go, but their servers are really good at picking us apart and we didn’t have a very good night in serve-receive, but give credit to Van Buren for doing that.”

After Siloam (21-8, 11-3) took the second game, the Pointerettes built an 18-13 lead in the third game following consecutive aces from junior Jessica Olienyk. But the Lady Panthers scored the last three points, with the go-ahead point coming on an ace from senior Beth Brankle.

The Pointerettes were up by two, 12-10, in the fourth game before the Lady Panthers went on a 9-1 run to seize control of the match. Senior outside hitter Lauren Cook had three kills during the pivotal run.

“We build a little bit of a lead and then we let a run or two go and we would kind of lose the momentum, and we’ve just got to learn that we’ve got to keep the momentum on our side of the court,” Van Buren coach Stephanie Hill said. “But it’s been a learning year for them and we’ve got a lot of young girls experience and we’ve got a lot of returners, so we’ll see from there. … We’ll just build on what we’ve established this year and continue to grow next year and hopefully, we’ll be contending.”

Cook led the Lady Panthers with 14 kills, while fellow senior Leah Bergthold added 11. Senior Ashley Avery recorded 22 assists, senior Ashlin Stock had 17 assists and 15 digs and Brankle led the team in digs with 34.

Van Buren got 10 kills each from junior Chloe Bauman and sophomore Greer Rogers. Freshman Emilee Aaron and Alyssa Hilmer, a senior playing in her final match, each had six blocks. Junior Breanna Vest had 10 digs as well.

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