Pella Christian grounds Panthers

After a signature win over Sigourney, the Pekin Panthers had one more team standing between them and playing for a Regional volleyball championship. Unfortunately for Pekin, that team was Pella Christian, who was playing some of their best volleyball of the season.

Things got off to a slow start for the Panthers, falling into a hole early. Many of the hits coming from their outside players had fallen in most games during the season, but Pella Christian's scrappy play kept those balls from dropping. The Eagles kept up the pressure, scoring on a majority of their serves in the first set. Pekin would stop the run with a block or precise shot, but couldn't manage to eat into the deficit. Pella Christian ended the set with a string of points and winning it 25-15.

More of the same occurred in the following set, with Pekin facing a large deficit early on. The faithful fans, who had traveled nearly 50 miles, were kept quiet most of the way. A few plays here and there allowed Pekin to cling on, but the points didn't come often enough. The Second set also went to Pella Christian, 25-16.

"We played hard, but I was disappointed in our confidence," Panther coach Ken Hutchinson said. "We didn't play liked we could win. Our passing wasn't great, which allowed them a lot of free balls and tips."

On the verge of a sweep, the Panthers needed some type of spark to keep their hopes alive. The Panthers answered the call by taking the lead in the third set, stretching it out to as many as five points. The silent visitors sideline acknowledged the fight their girls were putting up, and got back into the game, knowing each point was more important than the last. A short run by the Eagles had things knotted up quickly, and soon took back the lead they'd held for much of the night.

With each successive point, the light for Pekin became a little dimmer, until finally it was extinguished. Another short rally was all the Panthers managed to put up on the Eagles, ultimately falling 13-25.

Maci and Haley Gambell led the way for Pekin, combining for 25 digs, 12 kills and nine assists in the loss. Ellie Ledger provided some brief sparks throughout the night, coming up with five kills, four digs, two blocks and one assist.

Seven of the 10 Pekin players will not return next season, leaving some big questions heading into the offseason.

"I hope what the seniors take away from this is to go out on the court and play with confidence. Play like you can win," Hutchinson said. "I enjoyed their personalities and work ethic. They're hard workers and take criticism well. If you add confidence to that, they'll be top of the charts in anything they do."