RIVERSIDE, Mo. — Park Hill South expected some growing pains for nearly all of its roster.
After a difficult stretch in the middle of the season, coach Karen Rule hopes the best play remains yet to come. The Panthers — defending Class 4 District 16 champions — moved to unbeaten in seven of their last eight matches with a 25-17, 25-13 sweep of Liberty North on Thursday, Sept. 21 at Park Hill South High School.
Park Hill South was scheduled for another Suburban Conference Red Division tilt at St. Joseph Central on Tuesday, Sept. 26, but the result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline. The Panthers carried a 13-4-1 record into that matchup, streaking after losing three of four and suffering their first league loss since 2015.
“I’m impressed on how (the freshmen are) led by our older clan of kids,” Rule said. “Our whole team in itself is inexperienced so grade level isn’t the key at this point; it’s just getting experience in the game and whether that’s the older kids or juniors or sophomores, it doesn’t matter, but I feel like as a whole we’re starting to click as a team and that’s the most important part.”
Park Hill South only has two seniors on the roster, and Annika Welty — a 6-foot-4 Division I commit — continues to lead the way. She posted nine kills, two aces and two blocks in the win over Liberty North.
Welty was the only starter a year ago still on the roster, while juniors Michelle Dvorak and Kacy Lewallen gained valuable experience during a 30-win season that ended in the state quarterfinals.
Dvorak posted 10 kills against Liberty North and continues to pair with freshman Abbie Day on the outside of the attack. Lewallen split time at setter early in the season but has settled into a defensive role, picking up a team-high 15 digs in the most recent match.
Arley Anderson, a freshman, posted 22 assists and now leads at the etter spot. Adah Anderson, another freshman, is a key defensive cog, finishing with nine digs against Liberty North.
Welty knew her role would change after the graduation of a record-setting crop of seniors, and her dominance at the net often makes the difference. The Panthers generally try to score big with her on the floor and maintain when she rotates off.
“It’s a role to fill, but it’s just a lot of fun being that person they can count on,” Welty said. “We have come a long way since the beginning of the season, and we’re rolling together as a team, which is nice.”
The Red Division crown remains in reach despite the recent loss to Liberty. Rule expects Park Hill South and Truman to challenge the Blue Jays, especially if her inexperienced roster continues to gel.
With Welty leading the way, Park Hill South wants to challenge for the postseason again but that doesn’t mean comparing this roster to the 2016 squad.
“We try not to think about last season since we’re a completely new team basically,” Rule said. “It’s a lot of fun just being a different team because the last two years we had about the same team; I feel like we’re going to go far and hope that we go far because I think that we’re a really good team this year.”
Park Hill South 2, Kearney 1
The Panthers overcame a slow start to earn a nonconference 16-25, 25-20, 25-22 win Tuesday, Sept. 19 at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo.
Welty and Day put up eight kills apiece, and Arley Anderson contributed four of Park Hill South’s seven service aces. The Panthers were strong on defense to help overcome 12 attack errors.
Lewallen (20), Arley Anderson (16) and Day (13) all finished with double-digit digs for Park Hill South.
Lee’s Summit 2, Park Hill 0
A first set comeback came up short Thursday, Sept. 21 at Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Mo., and the Trojans didn’t recover.
Down as many as five in the first set, Park Hill tied it at 22-22, but Lee’s Summit came back for a 28-26, 25-15 win. Kai Welsh, a junior, led the Trojans with six kills and five blocks, while senior setter Kayla Huffman provided 13 assists.
Park Hill dropped to 12-9-1 overall with a second straight Suburban Conference Gold Division loss. The Trojans were 2-5 in league play entering a Tuesday, Sept. 26 matchup at Lee’s Summit West (result not available).
Blue Springs South 2
Park Hill 0
The Trojans managed just 14 kills in a Gold Division loss Tuesday, Sept. 19 at Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Mo.
Blue Springs South won both sets by a score of 25-20. Welsh led Park Hill with five kills and five blocks, while senior Madison Michaelis returned from injury with a team-high 17 digs.