The court at Gross Memorial Coliseum has been a second home to the Centralia volleyball program.
Before this year's Class 1A Division I state tournament started, the Panthers had won 13 state championships on this floor since 1994. With an incredible second set flurry Saturday, Centralia added a 14th title, beating Coldwater-South Central, 25-17, 26-24, in the championship game.
"It feels as good as No. 1. It really does," Centralia coach Kimbrook Tennal said. "It never really changes, the feel of this. It's as good as it ever was. Maybe even more so. Those girls fought so hard."
Tennal has been a part of most of the Panthers state titles as the head coach or assistant to his wife, Kim Tennal.
On Saturday, No. 1 seeded Centralia went into the finale after putting down Pretty Prairie in quick work with a 25-11, 25-14 win in the semifinals. After a short break in the locker room, the team watched from floor level as South Central went a lengthy three sets to beat Sylvan-Lucas, 25-19, 22-25, 25-23.
Once the championship game started, Centralia (43-1) took to the court with the same demeanor they have so many times before — as a team that wouldn't lose.
"Coach Tennal has prepared us for this all year," Centralia junior Madison Lueger said. "We had the mindset we weren't going to lose. We all have that mindset. We all came together and played as a team."
The Panthers took a 16-9 lead in the first set after senior Katie Glatzcak scored a kill from her knees that landed on the Timberwolves' side and was unable to be returned. The lead grew to 23-9 before South Central began to fight back. What appeared to be headed toward a big first set win suddenly became 24-17. A kill by junior Kate Elliott ended any more of the Timberwolves' chance for a miraculous comeback, though.
"I think we were letting up a little," Centralia sophomore outside hitter Kennedy Becker said about the end of the first set. "They were gaining from that a little bit in the second set."
The Timberwolves became the team in charge early in the second set, grabbing the first four points. It was a lead they would continue to build off, sneaking out to a 13-7 lead after a senior Rylee Alexander service ace. It became 16-7 on a Centralia miscue.
Before the lead grew to nine, Tennal called a timeout, something he said he doesn't think he did all season.
"I didn't even want to call it," Tennal said laughing. "I don't like to call timeouts because usually something negative gets said and someone gets down. So, I didn't say anything negative. I just told them to go get 'em."
The Panthers methodically took their coaches advice and began to fight back. Down 22-21, Becker scored a kill to tie it. She dropped to her knees with both fists clinched and her teammates around her celebrated.
"It felt pretty awesome," Becker said of the kill. "The whole team got excited. It was really fun."
South Central wasn't done. The Timberwolves led 23-22 and 24-23. The Panthers scored the final three points, with Elliott again scoring the final set point — the second time with a service ace.
"It's like no other feeling I've ever had," Lueger said. "All the hard work. All the conditioning and summer weights, it all feels incredible."
In the third place game, Sylan-Lucas bounced back from its heartbreaking semifinal loss, to beat Pretty Prairie, 25-14, 25-20.