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Less than one week into its schedule, Derby passed its test at its first tournament of the year.

The Panthers finished 5-1 in the AVCTL preseason tournament in Hutchinson, which matched their best finish at the annual event since 2015. They had finished 3-3 in 2018 and 2016, while going 2-4 in 2017.

Derby won all five of its matches via two-set sweeps. Its only loss came over a three-set battle against Maize South.

AVCTL Preseason Tournament results 
 def. Newton25-14, 25-23 
 def. Liberal 25-12, 25-16
 def. Eisenhower 25-14, 25-23
 lost to Maize South 26-28, 32-30, 21-25
 def. Hutchinson 31-29, 25-18
 def. Andover Central 25-20, 25-20


“We’re playing really good ball, but we’re not playing super consistent either,” coach Shelby Kraus said. “I feel like there is so much more that we can grow in. I don’t want to feel like we’re at our peak right now.”

Derby began its day with a sweep of AVCTL-I rival Newton. Kraus said the Railers are a bit down this year, but it still offers a noteworthy win against a team that has been a headache in recent seasons.

“Instead of just swinging, swinging, swinging, our hitters really worked on their shots,” Kraus said. “Offensively, we looked so much smarter. I was super impressed.”

The 14-team tournament can offer twists and turns in its scheduling, but Derby was able to play its first three opponents with breaks in between each match.

That might have saved Derby’s legs as it played three consecutive matches in the afternoon against Maize South, Hutchinson and Andover Central.

After seeing the Mavericks on Tuesday in their home triangular (21-25, 20-25), the Panthers took them to three sets (26-28, 32-30, 21-25) in their lone loss on Saturday.

Kraus said the match took an hour and 25 minutes and took a physical toll on her girls.

Derby rebounded from that match, however, and was able to finish its day with wins against host Hutchinson and Andover Central.

The Salthawks are in position to contend for an AVCTL-I title this fall and it gave the Panthers a needed glimpse of what they’ll see later in the season.

“We lost to Hutchinson in its summer tournament,” Kraus said. “To come back and play them … It took us a while to mentally get into that first set. We were fine after that, but [our girls] were a little heartbroken because they wanted to win that Maize South match so bad.”

Kraus credited senior Jaden Keener for her rebound and performance in their final match against the Jaguars.

“Jaden kind of got in a funk for a couple of matches, but against Andover Central she came out and led our team,” the Derby coach added.

The Panthers will only have one triangular this week with no weekend tournament. Kraus said it will provide needed practice time to refine play on the court with a team that is cohesive.

“The chemistry is a lot better,” Kraus said of this year’s roster. “We spent a lot of time with each other in the summer and they all get along with each other on and off the court and they all have similar personalities.”