Prep volleyball: Panthers secure first win

Sep. 10—PEKIN — It was a week of breakthroughs for the Pekin High School volleyball team.

First came Tuesday night's match at Hillcrest Academy. After losing 13 straight sets to open the season, the Panthers broke through against the Ravens winning a 25-23 in the second game of the Southeast Iowa Superconference north match.

On Thursday night, Pekin made a bigger breakthrough. The Panthers won their first match, edging another SEISC north rival in four sets topping Lone Tree 25-20, 25-21, 24-26 and 25-23.

"We're fighters, but we haven't been able to finish a set before this week," Pekin head volleyball coach Jordan Mohs said. "When we finally got that (second) set at Hillcrest, we felt like we were building momentum. Just to finally get over that hump and get a win under their belts feels really good.

"I'm really happy for them. I'm really proud of them."

Pekin needed every bit of hustle and energy to pull out their first win in a match that featured 28 ties and 15 lead changes through the four sets. The Panthers built a 10-7 lead in the opening game on an ace serve by Payten Coleman and kill off a Lone Tree block by Ava Gillam.

"Seeing those moments where the girls start believing in themselves and realizing they can do this," Mohs said. "We're a very inexperienced varsity team, so when I see them get that confidence to be able to do it, the light on their faces in something great to see."

Gillam put away the opening set with a closing ace, one of 18 collected in the match by the Panthers. The Pekin junior came up big on both sides of the net, picking up seven kills on 23-30 attacking while protecting Lone Tree's attack defensively contributing in seven blocks during the match.

"I got better looks at the court. It just felt good," Gillam said.

"The way we hustled around the court and the way we kept picking each other up is what I'm most proud of," Pekin junior Kayse Miller added. "We've all worked so hard at practices. Even in games. Being able to finish feels so good."

Pekin put themselves on the verge of a sweep, pulling away from a 13-13 tie with an 8-1 run that began with consecutive kills by Myah Bainbridge to put away the second set. Lone Tree, however, fought back to win a tightly-contested third set with a tiebreaking kill by Cate Sexton and ace serve by Hayden Yoder sending the match to a fourth set testing the resolve of the Panthers.

"I was really nervous that they would kind of shut down," Mohs said. "I just told them we have to fix the little mistakes we were making, play our game and play to our level.

"I just told them they deserved this win, so let's go out there and get it."

Pekin did just that, winning another close set as the teams exchanged the lead six times before the Panthers took the lead for good on a tiebreaking kill by Miller and an ace serve by Bainbridge. Consecutive aces by Alex Parsons extended the lead to 19-14 before a tip at the net by Katelynn Schultz extended Pekin's lead to 23-17.

Lone Tree (1-9) made one last run at extending the match, scoring four straight points to pull within 23-21 before a kill by Sexton cut Pekin's lead to 24-23. With one last match point to work with, just the second match point of the entire season for the Panthers, a tip over the net by Bainbridge was sent back into the net by Sexton setting off the much-deserved victory celebration on Pekin's side of the court.

"We've all worked so hard as a team together," Miller said. "Our energy is what carried us over the top."

Pekin (1-6, 1-2 SEI north) will look to secure their season straight win on Tuesday at Louisa-Muscatine. The Panthers then host WACO on Thursday as former Pekin assistant coach and Fairfield volleyball all-state standout Danae Drish continues her first year at the helm of the Warrior volleyball program.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.