A first set tussle went the way of the Pana Panthers Thursday, March 25, at Litchfield and with the hosts serving first in the second set, the mission was to send the match into a third set. But Pana showed why they are considered a perennial powerhouse in volleyball as they closed out the conference match with authority and registered their fourth win of the season and third in conference play.
Coach Mitch Hughes’ Lady Panthers fell to 0-4 and will search for their first win tonight, March 29, when they travel to Roxana to meet the Shells in a South Central Conference match.
In the first set, Cara Pence put the Lady Panthers up 1-0 with a stuff at the net, followed by a serve from Emma Walch that wasn’t returned cleanly. Pana squeezed in their first point from a hitting error, but a downed spike by Pence made it 3-1 Litchfield.
Jillian Hamilton’s kill and Brayer Denton’s service point evened the score at three but Litchfield recaptured the lead after a touch by Pana on an attack by freshman Annika Rhodes.
The hosts led 7-5 but Pana gained possession and a point, after a Litchfield return struck the net antenna. Carsen Sims’ serve knotted the score at seven but Pana relinquished possession and a point, from an errant hit. Sims’ kill tied the score at eight and served point nine but a touch call against Pana gave possession and a point to Litchfield.
Madison Fowler’s serve was greeted with a back row hit from Sims for a point and the ball. With Alivia Reed at the service line, Pana rattled off the next four points and opened a 13-9 lead that was cut into by Pence with a downed spike.
Emma Walch’s term of service was cut short by a kill from Lainey Hicks and a serve return error by Litchfield gave Pana it’s largest lead of the set at 15-10. Litchfield owned the next three points before giving way to a back row attack from Hamilton that was followed by three more Pana points. The visitors went on to outscore their hosts 7-4 and lock down the first set, 25-17.
The wheels came off the purple and white bus in the second set due in part to the power within the Pana lineup. Litchfield’s Emma Walch opened the set at the service line but a tip over the Panther defense was just a glimmer of things to come as junior Jillian Hamilton laid down five of Pana’s seven kills in the set for a 25-6 romp. Senior Brayer Denton and junior Lainey Hicks were credited with the other two kills.
Recently named to the first team all-conference in basketball, the 5’11” multi-talented Hamilton helped stake Pana to an insurmountable 17-0 lead.
Annika Rhodes did give the Litchfield fans something to cheer about as she too recorded a kill but Coach Greg Cothern’s squad performed like a well oiled machine and executed in every aspect of the game.
Thus far, the Pana Panthers have recorded wins over Southwestern, Carlinville, North Mac and Litchfield and dropped losses to Springfield and Staunton, the latter of whom is undefeated in both conference and non-conference play. They lost to Springfield 20-25 and 22-25 on March 20 and it was a 24-26 and 23-25 conference nail biter at Staunton on March 18.