KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kayla Huffman has spent each of the past three seasons as the top option at setter for Park Hill.
However, the Trojans standout senior often shows off her diverse skills when called upon. She delivered in big moments late to help finish off a 25-22, 25-18 sweep of rival Park Hill South on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at Park Hill High School.
The home win — one of the biggest in recent memory for the program — featured two tight sets before Park Hill pulled away late from the 2016 Class 4 state quarterfinalist.
“We’ve really tried past years to beat them, and we just couldn’t finish,” Huffman said. “I’m glad we got to finish this year.”
Huffman (13 assists) now splits time at setter with junior Landyn Powell (nine assists).
That leaves more opportunities for Huffman to attack and block at the net for Park Hill. She provided a tip kill and a block during a 5-0 run to finish the second set, totaling a balanced six digs, five kills and two blocks in the win.
“I think she’s ready to kind of break out and do everything she can do,” Park Hill coach Lindsay Hood said. “She sets for us, but she’s not a true setter. For her this year, I want to make sure she has her opportunity to shine.”
Park Hill South suffered its first loss of the season with a rebuilding squad after last year’s run to the playoffs behind a historic senior class.
The second set didn’t feature a lead of more than three points for either team until the closing stretch. The Panthers continue to play freshmen Abbie Day (four kills), Arley Anderson (13 assists) and Adah Anderson (16 digs) in key roles with only one starter and two rotation players back from a year ago.
Park Hill South coach Karen Rule said Park Hill focused in on the inexperienced players in a potentially good learning experience.
“I think this is the first time they’ve played in an environment like this, so I think just that in itself (is the takeaway),” Rule said. “It took them a while to settle down, but in the end, I think they held their own; they held their composure.”
“We had a game plan, and sometimes they could follow through with it and sometimes they couldn’t. I think that comes with experience.”
The first set provided a test for both teams.
Park Hill South used a 4-0 run to take a 10-6 lead before Park Hill answered with four straight to force a timeout. There were also ties at 10-10, 11-11 and 12-12 before Park Hill went back up 14-12.
The run for Park Hill came with 6-foot-4 Division I recruit Annika Welty on the bench. She returned and led a quick comeback, violently spiking a n errant serve return down to put the Panthers back in front at 15-14.
“We have to score points when Annika is in, and then we just have to be able to maintain and not lose points when she’s out for us to be successful down the road,” Rule said of Welty, who led all attackers with nine kills.
Park Hill junior Sabrina Lane then took the Trojans from down 16-15 to up 21-16. She contributed both of her aces during the run, forcing another timeout from Park Hill South after back-to-back errors.
The lead went to 22-16 after a kill for Park Hill freshman Kristen Birmingham, but Welty supplied two aces and two kills during one final response. Her second ace made it 22-20 before Birmingham’s dink briefly stopped the momentum with another of her six kills.
A long rally ended with a kill for Park Hill South freshman Lauren Leners — her lone one — but after seeing the lead whittled to 23-22, Park Hill won two straight points to close out the first set.
Park Hill’s balanced attack continued to shine in the tight second set. Rachel Pella, a junior, led the way with seven kills followed by Birmingham and Huffman and then Lane with four. Kai Welsh, another standout senior for the Trojans, finished with 2½ blocks, while Lane had two.
Michelle Dvorak (five kills) and Day (four) followed Welty on Park Hill South’s attack list.
Park Hill entered the match off of three straight losses. The Trojans returned the majority of a lineup that made a run to the Class 4 District 16 championship match a year ago before losing to Park Hill South again.
While Hood saw her team score an important win, she didn’t believe last year’s results played into the motivation for the first rematch since last year’s postseason meeting.
“We really haven’t focused that much on last year’s season because this is a different team,” Hood said. “We’ve all acknowledged we have talent right now. We’re still working on coming together on the court, and we did that tonight.
“It’s one of those things right now where we have the ability to compete with anyone but we tend to be our own worst enemies.”
Lee’s Summit 2, Park Hill South 1
The Panthers lost for a second time in a span of three matches, unable to finish off a win after taking the opening set Monday, Sept. 11 at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo.
In a rematch of a Class 4 sectional from a year ago, Lee’s Summit came back for a 23-25, 25-16, 25-22 win. Welty finished with 16 kills, while Dvorak added 11 for a Park Hill South offense that produced 39 kills in the three sets. Welty also added three service aces.
Park Hill South 2, Raytown 0
The Panthers quickly came back from the Park Hill loss with a dominant Suburban Conference Red Division win Thursday, Sept. 7 at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo.
Welty recorded 11 kills, and Dvorak added eight in a quick 25-14, 25-8 sweep for Park Hill South. Dvorak also had three blocks while Kacy Lewallen, a junior, had nine assists and five digs.
Arley Anderson had two aces and 15 assists.
Raymore-Peculiar 2, Park Hill 0
Ahead of the win over Park Hill South, the Trojans lost a third straight in Gold Division play.
Raymore-Peculiar held on for a 25-22, 30-28 sweep Tuesday, Sept. 5 in Raymore, Mo. despite a career-high 11 kills for Birmingham. Park Hill nearly forced a third set but instead dropped to 0-3 in conference play entering a Tuesday, Sept. 12 match with Lee’s Summit North (result not available at The Citizen’s deadline).
Madison Michaelis led Park Hill’s defense with 22 digs, while Powell added 14 and Huffman 12.