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Royall entered this season with lofty expectations thanks to a boatload of returning talent from last year’s team. A couple weeks into the young season, and those expectations are being met so far.

The Panthers have stormed out to an 11-3 record to start the year, including strong showings at two tournaments and a pair of victories to kickoff Scenic Bluffs Conference play. For their efforts, they have been ranked No. 5 among all Division 4 teams in the state in the first two editions of the Wisconsin Volleyball Coaches Association (WVCA) coaches’ poll.

Next up for Royall is a road match in Necedah Thursday, September 12 at 6 p.m. and a double dual at Brookwood Tuesday, September 17 starting at 5 p.m.

Here’s how things have gone so far this season for the Panthers:

Royall Panthers 3, New

Lisbon Rockets 1

Royall improved to 2-0 in conference play to start the season by beating the Rockets on the road 25-20, 27-29, 25-19, 25-14 Tuesday, September 10 in New Lisbon.

The Panthers took the opening set of the match 25-20 before things kicked up a notch in the second. The Rockets won the hotly-contested second set to level the match at 1-1, but Royall took third set and then won the fourth comfortably to secure the victory and survive its first league road test of the season.

Royall finishes as runner-up at Richland Center Invite

Perhaps the best early-season test of the Panthers’ mettle came at last weekend’s Richland Center Invite, where they posted a runner-up finish. Royall went 4-1 on the day at the tournament held Saturday, September 7 in Richland Center.

In pool play, the Panthers went 4-0, starting with a dominating 25-12, 25-15 win over the Barneveld Eagles. They moved on to easily beat the Wisconsin Dells Chiefs 25-12, 25-14 in their second match of the day. That was followed by a much tighter match against Darlington.

Royall won the first set 25-21 before dropping a highly competitive second set to the Redbirds 25-23. The decisive third set came right down to the wire, but the Panthers finished off a 25-21, 23-25, 15-11 victory to remain unbeaten on the day.

In their final match of pool play, Royall found itself locked in another tight match with host Richland Center.

After the Panthers took the first set 25-16, the Hornets responded by taking the second set by the exact same score.

The decisive third set again came down to the wire, with Royall staying unbeaten by finishing of a 25-16, 16-25, 15-11 win to win its pool and move on to the championship match against Platteville.

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Ultimately the Panthers couldn’t keep up with the Hillmen, ranked No. 5 in the WFCA Division 2 coaches’ poll, falling 16-25, 14-25. Nevertheless, it was a stellar showing overall for Royall against some stiff competition.

Royall Panthers 3, Cashton Eagles 2

In their Scenic Bluffs Conference opener, the Panthers survived quite a scare.

Royall rallied back from two sets down to pull off a dramatic 21-25, 15-25, 27-25, 25-23, 15-11 victory in five sets over Cashton Thursday, September 5 in Elroy.

After dropping a close first set, the Panthers saw the Eagles soar to a comfortable second-set victory that put them on the brink of opening conference play with a painful home loss. Instead, they dug deep and pulled out the next two sets by the narrowest of margins and won the decisive fifth set to send the Royall faithful home happy.

In the win, junior Jessica Brueggeman recorded 25 kills, junior Molly Crneckiy tallied 31 assists, senior Savannah DeWitt chipped in 20 digs and junior Emma Gruen added 19 kills, 17 digs and six aces for the Panthers.

Panthers place seventh at Friendship Tournament

Royall kicked off its 2019 campaign at the Friendship Tournament, held Thursday, August 29 and Friday, August 30 at the Just-A-Game Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells.

First up was the opening round of games Thursday morning. The Panthers were a part of Pool D alongside the Fall River Pirates and the Green Bay Southwest Fighting Trojans. Royall officially opened its season against Green Bay Southwest, who the Panthers beat 28-26, 25-12.

Next up was Fall River, who they defeated 25-22, 25-19 to finish the opening round 2-0.

Following the conclusion of the opening round was the placement round Thursday afternoon, where Royall was a part of Pool DD with host Wisconsin Dells and Oshkosh North. The Panthers first faced Oshkosh North. They slayed the Spartans by a final of 25-17, 25-18. Royall then proceeded to topple the Chiefs 25-16, 25-21 to finish the placement round 2-0.

As one of eight placement pool winners, the Panthers advanced to Friday’s gold bracket quarterfinals.

For their quarterfinal matchup, they drew the Green Bay Preble Hornets. Royall got off to a strong start by easily winning the first set, but saw Preble win the second set and then deliver the Panthers a heartbreaking defeat in the decisive third set for a final of 14-25, 25-19, 15-13.

The loss knocked Royall into the consolation semifinals against La Crosse Aquinas. The Blugolds defeated the Panthers 25-20, 25-16 for their second straight loss.

This left Royall in the seventh-place match, where it would face the Sevastopol Pioneers. The Panthers won a pair of tight sets 27-25, 25-21 to secure seventh place at the 2019 Friendship Tournament.

Follow Zach Rastall on Twitter @zrastall17 or contact him at 608-697-7943.

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