Monday was senior night for eight members of the Litchfield Lady Panther volleyball team and the atmosphere in Simmons Gymnasium seemed more like the traditional pre-COVID celebration as the gym was adorned with purple and white crepe paper, balloons, congratulatory signs and most importantly, a lot more fans.
Just last week it was announced the number of spectators for indoor sporting events would increase and although the gymnasium was far from capacity, there was an excitement that can only be created by students and family members who came to cheer the Lady Panthers to victory.
Unfortunately the Gillespie Miners had other ambitions and the two teams battled for three sets before the orange and black would prevail 25-7, 19-25 and 25-21. The Miners made a clean sweep as they defeated the junior Panthers 26-24, 25-17.
Prior to the varsity match all eight seniors and their parents were introduced. The graduating seniors are Aly Fenton, Madison Fowler, Brianna Jeffers, Kate Komor, Dakoda Mix, Izzy Ott, Becky Painter and Cara Pence.
Gillespie took charge in the first set and it was not the conventional power game that would be the deciding factor in the set. Senior Sydney Byers, who is listed as a middle hitter on the Lady Miners’ roster, used the softer side of the game to keep the Lady Panther defense off balance as she dinked, tipped and directed the ball just out of their reach.
With the score knotted at 1-1 early, the Miners would reel off eight consecutive points with Madison Niemeyer at the service line. Litchfield gained two points from a tandem block by Painter and Annika Rhodes and an attack from Cara Pence. Gillespie opened a 19-7 lead before Niemeyer again stepped to the service line and the next six points belonged to the Lady Miners as they closed out the set 25-7.
Litchfield did a better job of defending their territory in the second set and it all started with Brianna Jeffers serving and it was quickly 2-0.
Neither team would distance themselves more than four points apart and with Litchfield trailing 9-5, the Panthers gained point six on an out of bounds hit by the Miners, followed by an ace serve from Aly Fenton.
A back row kill by Cara Pence tied the scored at 10 and two service points by Pence put Litchfield up 12-10. A bad hit by Gillespie added point 13 for Litchfield before Coach Celia Jubelt called a time out to settle her team and the strategy paid dividends as Gillespie captured the next three points.
The two teams went toe-to-toe with long rallies and exciting play and the score reflected their effort with ties at 14, 16, 17 and 18 before Litchfield rattled off five consecutive points and led 23-18. Gillespie gained their final point of the set from a Painter spike that sailed long, but Litchfield closed out the set 25-19 with Fenton at the service line.
Litchfield won the coin toss for the serve in the deciding set and with Emma Walch at the line, Aulona Seferi returned possession back to the Miners. The tussle for control was won by Gillespie as the Miners built a 12-6 lead that drew a time out from head. Coach Mitchell Hughes.
The two teams would trade points before Litchfield jumped back in with six consecutive points that knotted the score at 13. Painter would play a role in the comeback with a stuff at the net and a downed spike.
Gillespie went to work and built a 16-13 lead but Litchfield again fought back and tied the score at 16. A Darci Wolber kill put the Miners up by one and a long rally won by Litchfield yielded yet another tie at 17.
An attack by Pence gave Litchfield a single point advantage that was erased by a net foul against the Lady Panthers which added a point for Gillespie and a side out. With Niemeyer at the service line, Byers again used the soft tip over the defense to put Gillespie up 19-18.
Gillespie gained point 20 on a serve return error but it was a big hit by Pence that garnered a point and side out for the Purple. Litchfield tied the game before an out of bounds attack put the Miners up 21-20.
Litchfield gained point 21 from a Gillespie return error and with Aly Fenton at the service line, the Bires name again emerged as she blocked an attack at the net that fell on Litchfield’s side and it was 22-21 Gillespie.
Coach Hughes called Litchfield’s second time out to stem the tide but the Miners smelled victory and snuffed out the final three points to seal the match win.
The loss, coupled with a 25-18, 25-21 loss to Carlinville on March 19, dropped the Lady Panthers to 0-3 and the shortened schedule doesn’t get any easier as they prepare to host the Pana Panthers tonight, March 25, in Simmons Gym.