A win against Pana has eluded the Hillsboro volleyball program for several years, but the Toppers were hopeful that 2021 would be the season that would come to an end.
The scores for the two teams against common opponents matched up comparably, with both teams posting wins over Southwestern, Gillespie, Carlinville, Vandalia, Greenville and Litchfield, and falling to conference champion Staunton.
Pana had one more conference win going into the match-up, with a three-set victory over Roxana, a team that had edged the Toppers in three early in the season.
All the similarities went out the window quickly on April 12, though, as the Panthers dispatched the Toppers in two 25-15, 25-12, to pick up their tenth straight win.
Pana displayed a confidence throughout the match that was backed up by an attack that threw multiple looks at the Hillsboro defense, many of which were successful despite the Toppers best efforts.
When Hillsboro took away the lines, the Panthers went for tips to the middle. When the defense closed in on that, Jillian Hamilton and company were there to hammer down kills to the back corners.
Whatever the approach, it yielded results as the Panthers led early and often in game one, with Hillsboro only able to get within four, 17-13 down the stretch.
Pana would go on to increase their lead to ten by the end of the game, winning 25-15 on a block at the net.
The Toppers would try to rally in the second set, taking an early 4-3 lead on a kill by Kaci Papin, but Pana got the side out and retook the lead, extending it to 8-4. Hillsboro would keep it close, getting within one on a block by Alayna McCario, but serving streaks of three and six points turned the Panther advantage into double digits and sapped the Toppers of their confidence.
With the Toppers down 22-12, Pana broke Hillsboro’s serve then got a block and a net call against the home team to finish off the 13-point win.
Hillsboro moved to 7-5 on the season with the loss and finished the conference schedule with a record of 6-3, good enough to tie for third place with Roxana and just behind Staunton (9-0) and Pana (8-1) .
The Toppers played Staunton in a non-conference tilt on Wednesday, April 14, followed by another non-conference tilt at Vandalia on April 15. Hillsboro closes out their 2021 season Saturday, April 17, at home, against Rochester at 10:30 a.m.