PEKIN – Last Thursday’s home conference win over Highland was featured successful play on the court from the Pekin volleyball team and an energetic student section cheering the Panthers on.
Sara Lane wasn’t about to let that energy diminish on Thursday against Lone Tree. With a chance to earn a fourth straight Southeast Iowa Superconference north division win, Lane made sure her student section had the energy needed to create plenty of noise having a dozen pizzas delivered for all fans to enjoy as a pregame meal.
“Food is a persuasive tool,” Lane said. “We’ve got a great student section. They bring the energy. They really help our girls get back into any match letting them know they’ve got people here to support them.”
On the court, Pekin volleyball players didn’t need a slice of pizza. As it turned out, a lost second set fueled the Panthers to its fourth straight conference win. Pekin outscored Lone Tree 50-22 over the final two sets, including a 15-0 start to the pivotal third, on the way to a 25-18, 23-25, 25-8, 25-14 victory over the Lions.
“There are things I’ve been saying most of the season that, when we have a down set and either find a way to win or end up losing one, the girls are constently reminded that we need to play together in order to be successful,” Lane said. “We cannot win matches if we don’t play together. That’s basic fundamentals to volleyball, but it also lets everyone on that court know even when things are not going their way that they have teammates out there capable of helping them out and backing them up.”
Kylie Davis stepped up to lead the Panthers at the net with 13 kills, six of which came during the most dominant set of the match. With the match tied at a set apiece, Davis scored a kill and a block ahead of two straight ace serves from Erika Coleman, forcing Lone Tree to take a timeout trailing 6-0.
The run didn’t stop. Davis added three more kills and Coleman added two more aces, forcing the Lions into their final timeout of the set after watching Pekin open up a stunning 15-0 lead.
“We really came together in that third set. We all played together and had fun together,” Davis said. “Ericka’s a great server, but what was exciting about that was how well we played the game as a team during that run.”
Lone Tree (3-13, 1-3 SEISC north) refused to go away quietly after a disappointing third set. The Lions fought their way into a 7-5 lead in the fourth set, hoping to force a decisive fifth.
With the set hanging in the balance, tied at 11-11, Kaydlyn Johnson took the serve for Pekin. Johnson would not give up the serve until Pekin had won the next nine points with three aces from the Panther junior and three more kills from Davis helping the Panthers take control of the set and the match.
“I get really nervous before I serve, but I always look up into the stands to my mom,” Johnson said after leading Pekin with six aces in the win. “She always lets me know that I’ve got this. My mom is a big supporter of mine. It feels great when you’re on a run serving like that, but it also makes you a little nervous. You keep reminding yourself that you have to keep going and you have to keep getting each serve over the net.”
Pekin (11-6, 4-1 SEISC north) will see Lone Tree again next Thursday when the Panthers travel to the home of the Lions to compete in their quadrant of the SEISC volleyball tournament. Pekin needs to finish as one of the top two teams record-wise in the round robin tournament in order to secure a spot in the tournament quarterfinals, which will be played along with the semifinals and finals on Saturday, Sept. 28 in West Burlington.
“The girls are really looking forward to showing the rest of the conference what we can do,” Lane said. “Last year, we didn’t have as great of a performance as we wanted. I think the girls see this year as an opportunity to show themselves, our fans and everyone else that we belong up there as one of the SEISC’s top teams.”