Opening the high school volleyball season with Pana is always a challenge, but doing so after losing seven seniors to graduation and one of your top returnees to injury makes the match-up extra difficult.
Hillsboro experienced that first hand on Tuesday, Aug. 24, as they welcomed the perennial South Central Conference power to town. The Panthers, who had their five-year streak of SCC titles broken last year by Staunton, jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, beating the Toppers 25-15, 25-9.
With just two players with significant varsity experience in the line-up, junior Layne Rupert and senior Alayna McCario, the Toppers had a completely different look from last year’s squad. The losses to graduation wouldn’t have been quite so great, but senior standout Kaci Papin is also missing in action for the foreseeable future due to ankle surgery.
Still, Hillsboro has to play the cards they are dealt and never folded against Pana, even after the Panthers took an early 7-0 lead in game one. Hillsboro shook off the deficit and clawed their way back to a 9-6 score, but Pana put together a five-point run later in the game to extend their advantage to 17-10.
That would be as close as Hillsboro got down the stretch as Pana picked up the 10-point win.
In game two, the Toppers would keep Pana from running away as they scored first and went point-for-point with the Panthers. The first chink in the armor would come with Hillsboro up 4-3, as Pana broke their serve and took their first lead of the game with a four-point run.
Hillsboro cut the advantage to one, 7-6, but Pana would continue to string together points during their serving opportunities and eventually overpowered the short-handed Toppers.
Rupert and McCario led three of the six statistical categories, with Rupert posting five kills and McCario tying for the team lead in blocks (one) and service points (two).
Sophomore Kinley Richardson, who is this year’s starting setter, also had two points and a team-best five assists, while Emilee Roemelin added another two points and two assists. Senior defensive specialist Abbigail Schreiber had Hillsboro’s other service points to go along with a kill and two digs.
Besides Rupert and Schreiber, McCario, sophomore middle hitter Sophia Blankenship also had one kill. Blankenship matched McCario with one block as well, with Roemelin and junior outside hitter Adyson McCammack also knocking down a Panther hit.
Junior libero Isabella White led the team in digs with eight, while Rupert had five and Roemelin and Schreiber had two each. Richardson, Blankenship, McCammack and freshman Tatum Christian also had digs, while Kenadie Carlock and Ellie Miller round out the varsity roster.
Hillsboro will try to right the ship this week as they face Litchfield on Thursday, Sept. 2. The Toppers were supposed to play Carlyle on Aug. 31, but Carlyle School District has been shut down due to COVID-19.
August 24 at Hillsboro
Pana 25 25
Hillsboro 15 9
Service Points: Kinley Richardson 2, Alayna McCario 2, Emilee Roemelin 2, Abbigail Schreiber 1. Aces: Kinley Richardson 1. Kills: Layne Rupert 5, Alayna McCario 1, Sophia Blankenship 1, Abbigail Schreiber 1. Assists: Kinley Richardson 5, Emilee Roemelin 2. Digs: Isabella White 8, Layne Rupert 5, Emilee Roemelin 2, Abbigail Schreiber 2, Kinley Richardson 1, Sophia Blankenship 1, Adyson McCammack 1, Tatum Christian 1. Blocks: Alayna McCario 1, Emilee Roemelin 1, Adyson McCammack 1, Sophia Blankenship 1.
Records: Hillsboro (0-1); Pana (1-0).