Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Didn't get a chance to finish your story? Purchase a day pass digital subscription and you'll receive unlimited online access for one day (24 hours). You will have immediate access upon completion of your purchase.

Olivia Miller celebrates

Tripoli senior Olivia Miller celebrates a point during the first set of the Panthers’ 3-2 win over Janesville on Thursday night at Tripoli.

The Tripoli High School gymnasium, splattered with bright orange and lined with fierce Panthers logos, is of modest size. No more than 15 rows of benches rise above the court on either side. 

On Thursday night, though, it was loud enough that you might've mistaken it for the Hilton Coliseum. 

The Tripoli and Janesville volleyball teams went punch-for-punch with each other Thursday, with a raucous crowd filling the air with electric noise at every juncture. 

Though both sides played with intense ferocity, it was the Panthers who emerged victorious 3-2 in five sets in the rivalry showdown: 25-16; 10-25; 25-19; 19-25; 15-10. 

Tripoli's season record improved to 6-4, while the Wildcats fell to 9-4. 

"It was a great game," Tripoli coach Courtney Anderson said. "I mean, both teams competed so well."

"It was crazy. It was so fun," senior Zoe Semelroth said. "I’m so thankful for this team this year. We’re so good."

With the way the first set went, it was surprising the match didn't end with a quick sweep in Tripoli's favor. 

It went back and forth at first, with both teams trading blows. Midway through, though, Tripoli went on a five-point streak that sent the fans in orange into a frenzy. 

Most of that was in response to senior Olivia Miller, who was a ball of energy from start to finish Thursday. Every time the Panthers won a point, Miller would explode from the back line or from the bench, pumping her first or roaring at Tripoli's student section, decked out in Iowa gold. 

"She has such a unique personality," Anderson said. "Her keyword is 'hype'. And she gets the team hyped. She brings a lot of energy, and she’s definitely a leader in that way."

Thanks to the home crowd's animation and a flurry of ferocious kills from Semelroth, Tripoli took the first set 25-16. 

Showing how much of bond the Panthers share with one another, the team trotted to the locker room holding each other's pinkies during the break. 

But when they came back, Janesville was ready to respond. After starting the second set with a 6-5 lead, the Wildcats embarked on a nine-point streak, bursting out to a 15-5 lead that the Panthers couldn't come back from. 

All the vigor shown by the home side was absorbed by the visiting Janesville fans, who showed they could be equally as loud. 

"It can be hard at times (to keep your composure)," Anderson said. "But I feel like the girls did a really good job of staying excited, staying focused and getting back on track."

The third set? Momentum went right back to Tripoli. Thanks to sharp serving from Miller, the Panthers jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Though it lost some speed as the set went on, Tripoli took the third set 25-19, which included more unstoppable spikes from Semelroth. 

"I'm glad she's on my team," Anderson said.

Moments later, all seemed right for the home team, which led 16-14 in the fourth set and just needed to hold on to escape with a meaningful win. Only, Janesville showed it wouldn't quit. 

With the score tied at 17, a point that seemed to last for eternity occured, with the ball tediously ping-ponging from side to side.

Ultimately, the volleyball dropped on Tripoli's side of the floor, which made the Wildcat fans berserk and spurred Janesville to a 25-19, fourth set win. 

It's only fitting that an intense, rivalry game such as this would need a tiebreaker. 

The fifth set went back-and-forth, until Tripoli gained a slight edge. When one final Semelroth kill flicked off the hands of a Wildcat and smacked against the back wall, there was too much for Janesville to overcome. 

Tripoli took the final set 15-10 and walked away with a massive, gutsy win. 

“[We had] determination and grit," Anderson said. "They’ve been working hard. This has been one of their goals. It feels really good that they worked hard for it and they finally achieved it."

The Panthers will try to keep the momentum a going when they host Dunkerton on Tuesday, while Janesville plays at Dike High School on Saturday.