Cardinals v Panthers Volleyball: A family affair

By Joe Peine
Posted 10/5/23

The Prescott Cardinals defeated the Ellsworth Panthers in three sets on Thursday night in Prescott.

The Cardinals struck first taking three of the first four points, but at the end of 10 total …

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Cardinals v Panthers Volleyball: A family affair


The Prescott Cardinals defeated the Ellsworth Panthers in three sets on Thursday night in Prescott.

The Cardinals struck first taking three of the first four points, but at the end of 10 total points it was 5-5. Five points later it was 8-7, and five points after that it was 10-10.

Ellsworth blinked first though, as Prescott scored four in a row, and the Panthers used their first time out at 14-11. Ellsworth came out of it looking like they’d tightened up their game, but at 16-14 Prescott went on a run the Panthers would never come back from, taking nine out of the next 10 to win 25-15.

Set two began as a mirror image of the first; the same, but opposite with Ellsworth claiming a 3-1 lead. It didn’t last though, as Prescott surged, going on a 7-1 run to take an 8-4 lead causing the Panthers to take their first time out to regroup.

It didn’t help as the Cardinals went on another run to bring the score to 15-6. Ellsworth tried to make a move late, but they ultimately lost 25-10.

Set three looked like Prescott was going to run away with it once again, but the Panthers found themselves and fought back.

The Cardinals jumped out to a 6-2 lead which became 10-3. That’s when Mya Petersen got the serve and led the Panthers on a 5-0 run to make it 10-8 putting Prescott on their heels and forcing them to use their first timeout of the evening. Afterwards, they managed to stop Petersen’s run, but not her presence as she dropped a beautiful setter dump into the middle of three caught off-guard Cardinals and pulled the Panthers to within one at 11-10.

It became a boxing match for the lead, 11-10 became 13-13 and 16-14. Unfortunately for the Panthers, it was they who blinked first once again as Prescott did what they’ve been doing to the competition all season. With the score nearly even at 18-17 and the momentum in Ellsworth’s favor, the Cardinals regrouped on the fly and broke off a 7-0 run to definitively take the victory.

Even though both teams describe themselves as being a family, that family aspect is more literal to each of them than usual. On both squads is a pair of sisters in the starting six. For Prescott, they are Natalie and Reese Ptacek, and for Ellsworth, they are Mya and Maleah Petersen.

“It’s honestly great,” Maleah Petersen said. “We have a connection on the court that's different from everyone else because we're around each other constantly. We’re both juniors because she moved up a grade, so we’ve always been in the same activities. We do everything together.”

For Natalie Ptacek, there is an element of bittersweet appreciation for this season.

“Most sisters don’t have the opportunity to play with their sibling because they’re different ages or play different sports. I’m really enjoying it now because when she goes to college next year it will never be the same,” Ptacek said.

This family aspect goes beyond the sisterhood of a couple players though. Cardinals Head Coach Tracey Budworth said this team has great chemistry, and she likes their chances in the postseason.

“We're in a very strong conference, and to prepare for that, our non-conference schedule is tough. We've played a number of the state ranked teams and either beat them or kept the matches tight. Our greatest strengths this year have been our height, our power, and our serving,” Budworth said. “There’s no drama with this team, and it shows on the court. We have the potential to go a long way this year.” 

Natalie Ptacek says it’s this team chemistry, on and off the court, that makes them a strong team. They’ve also had the good fortune to retain most of their playmakers.

“Since we have almost the same team as last year, it was very easy to have the team connection on the court. We know how everyone can contribute to the team and we know how to help each other,” Ptacek said. 

Success breeds success, and progress off the court is fueling these two programs to greatness. While Prescott is realizing the fruits of the labor that has been put into developing this family of athletes and coaches, Ellsworth is at the beginning of their ascension. For the players under new Panthers Head Coach Kayla Klecker, this year has been a revelation.

“In the past, we’ve had kind of a very negative, single mindset, not team mindset. We weren’t out there playing for our team, it felt like we were out there playing for ourselves,” Maleah Petersen said. “It's hard to get out of a mindset when you’ve literally spent your whole career playing like that, and I just think the coaches are doing a great job of pulling everyone together. I'm so hyped for the future. To see everyone come back and improvements, like with club season and everything else, I think it'll be great.”

For Klecker, losses like Thursday’s aren’t something to dwell on, the Panthers have larger goals than just their record this season.

“This loss doesn't reflect on what we've kind of like built overall in this whole season. We really have a tough even-keeled conference, so the competition that we come into on our conference matches is better than what we see generally in our preseason matches. It's a really huge testament for whenever we show up to our conference matches and take sets away or win in total because we're beating really good teams,” Klecker said. “Overall, though, our record this year compared to last year has doubled, and I try to look at the bigger picture of like, we're developing these athletes from last year to this year, and they have made such tremendous strides overall. And that's all I could have really asked for them.”

Prescott Cardinals, Ellsworth Panthers, Middle Border, volleyball