RIVERSIDE, Mo. — The final roadblock ended up very familiar.
For the fifth time in seven years, Park Hill South suffered a season-ending loss to St. Teresa’s Academy. This time, the Stars held on for a 28-26, 23-25, 25-19 victory Saturday, Oct. 21 in a Class 4 sectional at Park Hill South High School.
St. Teresa’s won district matchups over Park Hill South in 2012 and 2015 and playoff meetings in 2011 (sectional) and 2016 (quarterfinal).
Despite returning just one starter from a year ago, Park Hill South earned the coveted rematch and nearly pulled the minor upset, pushing St. Teresa’s to three sets for a second straight year. The Panthers finished at 23-7-2 despite only having two seniors on the roster.
“This group of girls was a fun group to coach this season,” Park Hill South coach Karen Rule said. “They practiced and played with a high level of focus and intensity. Early in the season, we faced some growing pains, but they never stopped believing in themselves.”
Annika Welty, Park Hill South’s lone returning starter and senior star, posted team-highs of 14 kills and nine blocks to keep the Panthers close throughout the match. St. Teresa’s took the early lead in the first set but needed extra points to win the opener.
Park Hill South jumped to a 5-0 advantage in the second set and held on late to force the third and deciding set. The Stars came from behind to close out the win before going on to earn a return trip to the state semifinals with a two-set sweep of Liberty in the quarterfinal played later in the day.
“Other than Annika — player for player — we were outmatched when it comes to experience, but our work ethic and desire to win is what kept us in the game,” Rule said. “I think now that they have experience playing at the varsity level they will be more comfortable in being called upon in bigger roles. The juniors are great kids and respected by their teammates so the transition in leadership should be a smooth one.”
Park Hill South sophomore Rachel Francis ended up with seven kills, while junior Michelle Dvorak added six. Kacy Lewallen, who transitioned into a libero role during the season, posted 15 digs, but freshman Abbie Day led the Panthers with 25.
Arley Anderson and Adah Anderson — both freshmen — finished with 14 digs apiece in a solid defensive effort for Park Hill South, while Arley Anderson set up 25 of the Panthers’ 31 kills.
Park Hill South made the playoffs for the third time in five seasons. Welty and senior Jessica Fiero were part of teams that posted 102 wins during the past four years.