It’s been 15 years since Hillsboro’s last regional title in volleyball, but slowly the Lady Hiltoppers have become a consistent threat to bring home some hardware.
After accumulating just 12 wins between 2012 and 2014, the Toppers have peeled off five straight winning seasons where they have surpassed that total each year. The highlight, so far, has been the 2019 campaign, which ended with 21 wins and 12 losses. That total is the most for a Hillsboro squad during Coach Emily Zimmerman’s nine-year tenure, four behind the school record of 25 wins in 1996.
The Toppers’ surge in success has coincided with a strong run by the South Central Conference as a whole, with the top six teams all coming in with 20 wins or more. Hillsboro would finish 7-2 overall to take the third spot in the conference, with their two losses coming to the two teams ahead of them, Staunton (8-1) and Pana (9-0).
The finish was Hillsboro’s best since 2011, while Pana picked up their fifth straight conference title, with 44 conference wins and one SCC loss in that span. The Toppers would fall to Staunton twice, once in three games on Sept. 19, then again in the regional semifinals at Greenville.
Outside of conference play, Hillsboro finished first in the Morrisonville Tournament, sixth in the 16-team Montgomery County Invitational and sixth in the Freeburg Monster Mash.
This year’s success was due in large part to an enviable balance of experience and potential, with three of the four seniors on the roster, Kayli Ward, Emily Reynolds, Chloe Beck and Rylee Schmollinger, in the starting line-up.
Two of the three seniors would also earn all-conference honors this season, with Ward making the second team and Beck a third team pick.
Ward led the team in kills with 259, 107 more than she had last year as a junior, and had a healthy kill efficiency percentage of 27 percent. She was also one of Hillsboro’s top servers with a 155 points and a team-best 40 aces.
Beck was also a top server with 181 points, the most on the team, and 35 aces. The versatile senior finished the year with 80 kills (third best), 94 assists (third best) and 103 digs (fourth best).
Reynolds also showed some versatility with 16 aces, 88 points and 116 digs, while earning one of the team’s hustle awards. Rylee Schmollinger would come off the bench for Hillsboro, adding in 16 digs and an ace during her time on the floor.
The rest of the roster was made up of seven juniors and a sophomore, Kaci Papin, who earned first team all-conference honors this year after being a second team pick as a freshman. Like Ward, Papin saw a big jump in her kill stats, going from 164 to 256, with a kill efficiency percentage of 33 percent. She was also a big deterrent at the net, with a team-best 59 blocks on the season, giving her 111 for her career.
Each of the seven juniors would contribute during the season. Ally Devore led the team in digs with 252 and added 155 points and 35 aces from the service line. Reagan DeVashier and Jordan Jacobs were first and second in assists with 263 and 257 respectively, while also contributing 141 digs on the defensive end.
Haley Major’s jump serve yielded 37 aces and 125 points this year, while she also finished among the team leaders in digs (136), blocks (31) and kills (68). Emma Miller was also a force at the net with 36 blocks, second most on the team, and upped her kill total to 30 this season.
Paige Roemelin and Maria Hernandez round out the junior class. Roemelin had seven blocks and 10 kills for the Toppers, while Hernandez served up 30 points and had 91 digs, while earning one of the team’s hustle awards.
Hillsboro has also seen some success at the junior high level under coaches Jessica Furness and Adam Haston. The seventh grade Lady Dragons won their regional this year, while the eighth graders were in the regional championship before the tournament was halted due to Covid-19.
With a roster full of seniors and a two-time all-conference player returning, the sky is the limit for the Lady Hiltoppers next year. Regardless of whether the postseason drought comes to an end or not, with 78 wins in the last four years, the program definitely seems headed in the right direction.