Sure, Park Hill South volleyball coach Debbie Fay was concerned about the rugged path her team faced to make the Missouri Class 4 state tournament. But Fay figured if her Panthers could handle pressure, they would be fine.
By DAVE McQUEEN
Special to The Star
And that the Panthers did, which is a big reason they are headed to state for the first time since 2005. Park Hill South earned its spot in the final four with two victories Saturday, the last one a tight 25-27, 25-20, 25-20 triumph over Lee’s Summit West in the Class 4 Sectional at Liberty.
“It was an emotional night for all the kids,” Fay said. “When only one team gets to go to state from Kansas City, that’s really hard to do. We played some great, great teams just to get here.”
Count Lee’s Summit West, 28-8-1, among them. The Titans, who handed Park Hill South, 35-2-1, one of its two losses in the regular season, battled through 16 ties and 11 lead changes before scoring the final two points to take the first game.
And while Park Hill South led for most of the last two games, the Panthers could never shake LS West or Carlisa May, the Titans’ fierce junior outside hitter, who was making kills from all over the floor and benefiting from the Titans’ strong blocking.
“Carlisa May came to play,” Fay said. “We never did figure her out.”
Better ball movement helped Park Hill South overcome May and the bigger Titans. Fay said that with better passing, and some solid serving from senior setter Ashton Anderson, the Panthers were able to take control.
“Once we started passing a little better, we could have a little more offense,” Fay said. “We really have to disguise our offense because we’re smaller. Once we started moving the ball and avoiding the block, things went a little more our way.”
Better ball movement translated into more opportunities for the Panthers up front, especially for outside hitter Kayla Wainwright, who finished with 17 kills.
Still, Park Hill South struggled to maintain a lead in the final two games. The Panthers led 16-6 early in the second game before the Titans rallied to within 22-18. They scored the first four points of the third game and led 22-14 before the Titans mounted a furious 6-1 rally that made it 23-20.
“I think we just got ahead of ourselves,” Anderson said. “Once we got the big lead we thought, ‘OK, it’s over’ and stopped playing as hard.”
But not for long. Wainwright slammed a shot past LS West’s back line and served the final two points that secured their trip to state. The Panthers will face Lafayette of Wildwood in the Class 4 semifinals Friday in Cape Girardeau.
Park Hill South reached the sectional final with a 25-12, 25-19 win over Blue Springs in Saturday’s first game. Lee’s Summit West advanced by downing host Liberty 25-20, 25-22.