RIVERSIDE, Mo. – Park Hill South knows how to reach the district championship stage. To forge a coveted return to the playoffs, the Panthers needed to continue mastery of their main rival this year.
In the Class 4 District 16 championship match, Park Hill South survived a stern test from Park Hill to earn a 28-26, 25-22 sweep Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Park Hill South High School. The Panthers’ seniors were a part of a fourth straight district finalist, extending the program’s run to at least 10 straight.
However, this marks the first chance for most of the roster to experience a championship.
“You could tell our seniors played a little tight, and I give a lot of credit to Park Hill for taking us out of system,” Park Hill South coach Karen McConnell said. “I’m glad that we could stay composed enough that we could make it through this night.”
Park Hill South senior Andi Elley was the only player to feature in the Panthers’ state championship match loss back in 2013. She’s one of five seniors, along with outside hitter Bri Bartosh, setter Allison Sadler and defensive specialists Emily Day and Sarah Knight, who have helped continue the Panthers’ tradition.
Park Hill has never beaten Park Hill South in the nearly 20 years of the rivalry.
Playing in the first district championship match in more than a decade, Park Hill battled back from a double-digit deficit in the opening set and eventually tied the score at 24-24 and again at 26 moments later.
Park Hill South scored the final two points in front of a large, partisan crowd representing both teams.
“We know they’re always a great competition, and they always seem to play super great when we’re playing them,” said Day, who had one of five service aces for the Panthers. “They’re definitely a team not to be reckoned with.”
Park Hill South won the regular season meeting between the two teams, which also ended up being a tight sweep.
The rematch proved no different, but Park Hill South again held a lead in the second set and appeared poised to pull away. Instead, Park Hill came back to tie the score 12-12 with five blocks – two apiece for sophomore Rachel Pella and Kai Welsh – helping to keep the match tight.
Park Hill then took a needed lead at 17-14 before Park Hill South rallied behind Elley (team-highs of 12 kills and 18 digs) and junior Annika Welty (nine kills). Sadler finished with 23 assists and 13 digs – one of four players in double figures.
Bartosh (14) and Knight (13) also posted double digits in digs.
Park Hill coach Lindsey Hood and her players gathered in the adjacent gym to have an emotional end of their season. The Trojans went 20-13-3, including a run to the championship of the Platte County Invitational, and showed off a balance of talented seniors (Tyah Barnett and Chelsea Edwards) along with promising youth.
Pella recorded a team-high 10 kills in the loss, while Welsh added two aces. Edwards recorded 12 digs in her final match, while junior Madison Michaelis led the Trojans with 12.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of the girls,” Hood said. “They’ve had an amazing season and it’s hard to be too upset when we played that well.”
Park Hill South (30-1-1) advances to play Lee’s Summit (10-20-1) – the surprise winner of District 13 -- in a sectional at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 in Liberty, Mo. The winner advances to the quarterfinal scheduled for 6 p.m. against either St. Teresa’s Academy (23-6-1) or Liberty (18-9-3).
This season, Park Hill South went 3-0 against the three other sectional qualifiers – 2-0 vs. Liberty and 1-0 vs. Lee’s Summit. The Panthers did not play St. Teresa’s Academy, which beat them in last year’s District 15 final.
“Coming up to sectionals now, we’re really excited, and hopefully, we have two more matches in us and we can go to state,” Day said. “It was probably one of our better matches as a unit, and we’re super excited to see what the future holds.”
Park Hill South 2, Oak Park 0
Earlier in the night, the Panthers advanced to their 10th straight district final with a 25-12, 25-16 sweep.
Park Hill South totaled 31 kills in the quick match – nine for Welty and from Bartosh. The Panthers were dominant in both sets and weren’t challenged.
“I thought our kids played really well against Oak Park,” McConnell said. “They came out with a high level of intensity that we had talked about in practice the other day so we set the tone there and I think it really paid off.”
Park Hill 2, Staley 0
The Trojans posted a fourth win on the season over the Falcons in their semifinal played earlier in the night.
Pella ended up with eight of Park Hill’s 21 kills, and the Trojans pulled away after a 16-16 tie in the second set for a 25-19, 25-23. The emotional win sent them into a coveted district final spot for the rematch with Park Hill South.
Kayla Huffman, Park Hill’s junior setter, had three service aces and 15 assist, while Welsh, Pella and sophomore Honor Foutch recorded two blocks apiece.