Pekin avenges early season loss to Sigourney

Maci Gambell was a leader in the Pekin win over Sigourney on October 23. She finished her last home game with 16 digs and nine kills.

The Pekin Panthers and Sigourney Savages' volleyball squads met for a third time this season, splitting the first two matches. Sigourney had previously come into Pekin High and left with a five-set win in front of a raucous crowd. The most recent match, on October 23, was in front of just as raucous a combined crowd, Pekin students wearing Christmas attire and Sigourney wearing patriotic garb.

In weeks past the Savages had a trend of getting behind early, which they had to avoid against a quick and powerful Panther team. Sigourney got the start they needed, getting a small lead early and gaining confidence along the way. The Panthers responded quickly, taking back some of the momentum. For a majority of the first set with neither team making a long run, both teams having small leads along the way or staying tied.

Pekin finally got some more rhythm going and continued to build off each succeeding point. The string of points concluded when the Panthers got the final point in the set, winning it 25-17. Sigourney rebounded from the tough loss by taking another early lead in the following set. Once again, the Panthers found a way to end the run and take back the lead. From there on, points were scored by both sides, giving both crowds something to cheer about.

While Pekin ended up taking the second set, the Savages kept things closer until the end. Some big hits by Pekin found open spots on the court to seal a two-set lead. With backs up against the wall, the Savages knew they had to play their best to keep the match and their postseason chances alive. Both sides followed the familiar script with Sigourney getting the first round of points. Pekin responded but was unable to take the lead, as some hitting errors kept their burst of points short.

Just when it seemed like Sigourney was about to run away with a lead, the Panthers stormed back with a flurry of points, mostly from their outside hitters.

"In the middle of the third game the girls, especially the seniors, sensed the end was near," Sigourney volleyball coach Chris Carter said. "I don't feel like they were tired, they were just trying too hard to score points and were making errors we don't normally make."

Pekin capitalized on the sudden loss of faith by the Sigourney girls, and the points began to mount up. The match concluded with Pekin on a high, and Sigourney on a low, in a 25-16 fashion. The Pekin win had a little meaning, considering when the two teams played on the same court earlier this season, the Savages walked away with the win.

"I was worried about playing at Pekin and beating them again on their court," Carter said. "We knew Pekin had a good season and we were going to have to play our best to get the win. We didn't play bad, but it wasn't our best match."

For the seniors, it was the last time they would face each other in the sport at the high school level. Leah Carter was the workhorse for the Savages all season, and continued to do so in her final game. She ended her night with a team high 20 assists, four kills, two digs and two aces, not missing once on 18 service attempts. Brooke Waechter, also a senior, was an influencer on both offense and defense. She had six kills, six digs and three blocks in the loss. Sydney Striegel chipped in with nine digs while Macie Leonard and Caleigh Dale combined for one dig and one ace.

As a team, the Savages finished the night with nine blocks, two coming from Sloane Magill, two from Maddison Schwenke, two from Makenna Hammes and the three from Waechter.

The Pekin senior class has been the biggest factor in the team's success this season, and they wanted to go out on top. They all made contributions in the win and got to soak in the fun along the way. Kennedy Coleman showed off her finesse with a team-high 18 assists, eight digs and two kills on the night. Maci Gambell used her aggressive play at key times for Pekin, finished with 16 digs and nine kills. Whitney Johnson also played all over the floor, collecting 15 digs and keeping the Panthers on their feet.

"Our passing was amazing tonight," Panther coach Ken Hutchinson said. "This was the team that we led up to all season long. You hope you're playing your best at the end of the year."

The two senior bigs, Faith Oostra and Paige Winn, posed a constant threat at the net with their shot blocking abilities. They ended up blocking seven Sigourney shots, six coming from Oostra. The pair also had four kills, two digs, two assists and one ace. The final two seniors were played interchangeably throughout the win. Deanna Winn and Leah Dix weren't big factors in the win, but they had helped Pekin throughout the season with their leadership and expertise.

"Seven seniors didn't want to lose tonight," Hutchinson said. "Our libero played her best game of the season, our hitters split the court in half and the hitting in general, we were hitting and swinging aggressively."

With the win the Panthers advanced in the Regional bracket to play Pella Christian on October 26.