The Modesto High volleyball team has yet to play a home match this season.
That's OK, though, because the Panthers seem to be making themselves at home in gyms across the Modesto Metro Conference.
Panthers outside hitter Ashley Nickell pounded home five of her match-high 18 kills in the fifth game of a marathon 25-19, 20-25, 24-26, 25-12, 15-8 victory over Downey on Monday night. It was a big victory for the Panthers (7-1, 5-0) in a match featuring the MMC's two undefeated teams. Downey (8-2, 4-1) led two games to one, but Nickell and the Panthers got in sync down the stretch.
"Everyone knew this was a game between the top two teams in the MMC," Modesto coach Adrienne Uecker said. "That was our largest crowd. It was a big atmosphere.
"I think the girls got the jitters out after the first three games."
The teams split the first two games, leading to the best game of the night, Downey's 26-24 victory in the third.
Downey fell behind early, thanks to a series of kills by Nickell. But the Knights climbed back in it, getting three consecutive kills from junior middle Elise Neville. With the Knights trailing 24-23, Knights middle Dani Hicks closed out the victory with a kill, block and kill.
"The girls have battled all season," Downey coach Allison Hylla said. "They're giving everything they've got and they work really well together."
But the Panthers took control in the fourth, rolling to a 25-12 victory and forcing a fifth game. Modesto setter Karen Wall (33 assists) spread the ball around, getting kills from several positions on the court.
"It's all about keeping the momentum," Uecker said.
Nickell put a close game away with three kills and an ace in a stretch that saw Modesto's lead go from 6-4 to 11-6.
Next up for the Panthers: Their first home match.
Panther Palace is being refinished, and Modesto will break in the new-look floor Wednesday against Beyer.
"We practiced at Hanshaw (Junior High) and the junior varsity and freshman practiced at Prescott (Senior Elementary)," Uecker said.
"Early, we all practiced at Roosevelt. It'll be nice to play and practice at home."
Hylla, meanwhile, is hoping the Knights' balance carries through the season. Madeline Liddle had 12 kills, Neville 11, and there were some big plays from Hollie Clark and Hicks.
"We've got a lot of seniors, and a lot of consistent hitters," Hylla said. "Hopefully we keep it up and we can get them back in the next one."
Bee Staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 578-2300.