Litchfield’s quest for a regional championship ran into a familiar roadblock, on Thursday, Oct. 28, in Carlinville: the Pana Panthers. The much anticipated match-up between the two South Central Conference teams came down to the depth, talent and overall experience of Coach Greg Cothern’s senior-filled varsity lineup, which includes Rachel Holthaus, Jillian Hamilton, Lainey Hicks, Kiley Ladage, Kady Perry and Jadyn Bearup.
Pana took the first set 25-14 and held off Litchfield 25-17 in the deciding set to claim the championship of the Class 2A Carlinville Regional Tournament. The title is their 18th in the program’s history, the seventh in Coach Cothern’s tenure, which started in 2012-13, and the sixth in a row for the Panthers.
Pana’s path to the title game included a straight set win over the host school Carlinville Cavaliers in the semifinals. The 27-9 Panthers earned the right to play Breese Mater Dei (31-5) this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. in the Class 2A Vandalia Sectional Tournament. Playing out of the Flora Regional, the Knights defeated Shelbyville 25-12, 25-15 in the title match.
Litchfield traveled to Pana just three short weeks ago in a conference match-up and it was Pana in two. Following the loss, Litchfield went on a two-game win streak with decisions over Metro-East Lutheran and Vandalia but a one win, three loss performance in the Civic Memorial Fall Classic and losses to Greenville and Hillsboro in the final two games of the regular season seemed to diminish their momentum until postseason play began when Coach Abby Carlson’s Lady Panthers caught fire in their first two regional tournament games.
The Lady Panthers took down Hillsboro, a rival they lost to on Oct. 21 in a three setter and Alton Marquette, a team they lost to on Aug. 31, in straight sets.
The regional tournament win over Marquette was record setting as it marked the first time that Litchfield had won two regional games in the same tournament since at least 1998 when the Illinois High School Association began tracking it on their website. It was also the first time since 2003 that Litchfield had contended for a regional championship.
Following the two wins, confidence was high and the anticipation of getting a second crack at Pana added yet another element of excitement for both the Lady Panthers and their followers.
Neither team could establish superiority in the early minutes of the first set as each looked tentative and the 7-7 score was indicative of post season jitters.
Pana would build a 12-8 lead behind kills from Chloe Ashcraft and Lainey Hicks. They extended their lead to 17-10 and points became harder and harder for Litchfield to come by as unforced errors began to surface.
Leading 18-13, Pana rattled off the next three points from a Litchfield attack that found the net, a serve return error and a successful attack from Hamilton.
Litchfield scored their last point of the set on a touch call against Pana off a spike from Blair Johnson and the final three points were won off a tandem block at the net by Holthaus and Ashcraft, a tip over Litchfield’s frontline defense and a non-return from Litchfield to end the set at 25-14.
A shaky start to the second set put Litchfield behind 5-0 early and although they would benefit from Pana’s miscues and draw the score to 2-5, it would be as close as they would get in the set as Pana maintained the pressure and opened an insurmountable 21-12 lead. A Litchfield serve in the net offered point 22 and possession to Pana.
With Emily Blackwell at the service line, Litchfield was called for being in the net and a timeout was called by Coach Carlson. Following the timeout, Rhodes responded with a successful attack for point and return of service.
Taylor Brakenhoff’s ace serve followed by Carlee Harmon’s kill boosted Litchfield’s point total to 15 before Kiley Ladage returned the serve to Pana via a successful attack.
Needing just one point to close out the match and Jillian Hamilton at the service line, Annika Rhodes put point 16 on the board for Litchfield on an attack that split the defense and an ensuing spike in the net from Pana’s Ladage that awarded Litchfield their 17th and final point of the match. Pana profited from a non return and the match ended 25-17.
The potent Pana offense put down 22 kills against the Panthers with Jillian Hamilton and Laney Hicks leading the charge with six each. Kiley Ladage was close behind with four while Rachel Holthaus added two as did junior Emily Blackwell.
Hicks and Holthaus were the top point getters from the service line as both had five service points, including two aces from Holthaus and a solo from Hicks. Jillian Hamilton had four service points and an ace.
Holthaus also contributed eight assists, two digs and a block. Hamilton led in defensive digs with 11 followed by Ladage with five and Jadyn Bearup with four.
Hicks had three blocks at the net and Hamilton stretched for two. Blackwell matched Holthaus in assists with eight. Chloe Ashcraft had four service points, a kill, a dig and a block.
For Litchfield, Blair Johnson and Annika Rhodes led the offensive attack with four kills apiece. Carlee Harmon and Kendall Stewart also chipped in solo kills.
Harmon had six blocks at the net and Stewart stood tall for three. Emma Walch led the Panthers at the service line with seven good serves and two aces. She also led the team with 10 assists and added three digs.
Amy Frerichs was the dig leader with 10 followed by Rhodes with seven and Johnson with four. Taylor Brakenhoff was a perfect 5-0 from the service line and dropped in two aces.
With the loss, Litchfield finished the season with a record of 13 wins and 13 losses.
October 28 at Carlinville
Class 2A Regional Championship
Pana 25 25
Litchfield 14 17
Service Points: Lainey Hicks 5, Rachel Holthaus 5, Chloe Ashcraft 4, Jillian Hamilton 4, Emily Blackwell 3, Kiley Ladage 2. Service Aces: R. Holthaus 2, L. Hicks 1, J. Hamilton 1. Kills: J. Hamilton 6, L. Hicks 6, K. Ladage 4, R. Holthaus 2, E. Blackwell 2, Olivia Anderson 1, C. Ashcraft 1. Blocks: L. Hicks 3, J. Hamilton 2, O. Anderson 1, C. Ashcraft 1, K. Ladage 1. Assists: E. Blackwell 8, R. Holthaus 8. Digs: J. Hamilton 11, K. Ladage 5, Jadyn Bearup 4, E. Blackwell 3, L. Hicks 2, R. Holthaus 2, Sierra Richards 2, C. Ashcraft 1.
Serves In/Out: Emma Walch 7/0, Carlee Harmon 5/1, Annika Rhodes 5/0, Taylor Brakenhoff 5/0, Blair Johnson 3/1, Kendall Stewart 3/1. Service Aces: E. Walch 2, T. Brakenhoff 2, C. Harmon 1. Attack Attempts/Kills: A. Rhodes 14/4, B. Johnson 13/4, K. Stewart 4/1, C. Harmon 3/1, T. Brakenhoff 6/0. Blocks: C. Harmon 6, K. Stewart 3, B. Johnson 1. Assists: E. Walch 10. Digs: Amy Frerichs 10, A. Rhodes 7, B. Johnson 4, E. Walch 3, K. Stewart 2, C. Harmon 1, T. Brakenhoff 1.
Records: Litchfield (13-13); Pana (27-9).
Class 2A Volleyball
Monday, October 25
Match 1 - (8) Litchfield def. (9) Hillsboro 25-20, 21-25, 25-11
Match 2 - (5) Carlinville def. (11) Gillespie 25-16, 25-12
Tuesday, October 26
Match 3 - (8) Litchfield def. (2) Alton Marquette 25-21, 25-11
Match 4 - (3) Pana def. (5) Carlinville 25-12, 25-11
Thursday, October 28
Match 5 - (3) Pana def. (8) Litchfield 25-14, 25-17
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