Three members of Park Hill South’s memorable roster from last year return, but only one played a significant role in another historic season.
Annika Welty, a 6-foot-3 senior committed to Creighton, led the Panthers in kills (263) and blocks (47), including 46 solo blocks, and also contributed 21 service aces. The rest of this year’s lineup will be inheriting increased duties, or in some cases, making varsity debuts.
Michelle Dvorak joins Welty in the middle, while Kacy Lewallen can be used in multiple spots. Both players are juniors who saw limited action a year ago when Park Hill South returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“The goals and expectations that we continue live up to the tradition of the program are to work hard, play with a high level of intensity and strive to be one of the last teams standing at the end of the season,” Park Hill South coach Karen Rule said.
Park Hill South turned in one of its best seasons ever in 2016, but the Panthers were unable to equal the semifinal run of the 2013 team.
After posting winning streaks of 15 and 16 matches, Park Hill South entered the Class 4 playoffs off the District 16 championship and then a sectional victory over Lee’s Summit. The run came to an end in the Class 4 quarterfinals with a three-set loss to St. Teresa’s Academy.
Park Hill South won 114 matches in a four-year span with all-state performers Andi Elley and Allison Sadler plus standouts Bri Bartosh, Emily Day and Sarah Knight.
“We still have a lot of learning to do, and I think we’ll end up doing well,” Welty said. “I’m wanting to work on becoming a leader because I had six seniors above me last year so this is my first year stepping up (into that role).”
Lewallen will take over the setter role from Sadler, who posted more than 700 assists a season ago. Previously, Lewallen’s biggest contributions were on defense with 53 digs last year — a total that ranked just behind the five graduated seniors.
Dvorak ranked fifth for Park Hill South in kills as a sophomore, posting 73 to go with 16 blocks in her junior season.
“In order for us to have success, we are going to have to work on floor communication and playing intelligently because we will not have the power or experience of last year on the floor,” Rule said. “And since most of those kids had played together for three or four years, they knew each other inside and out.”