Panthers get senior night sweep, seal SEC title
It was a big night for the Panthers — a sweep, a title and a celebration of the seniors in the Mt. Pleasant volleyball team’s last regular-season home match of the year.
The Panthers (27-4) took down rival Ft. Madison in three straight sets to claim the Southeast Conference crown in Thursday’s senior night match.
“I thought that was the most efficient performance we’ve had,” Mt. Pleasant Coach Jeff Schulz said, noting plenty of reasons that the Panthers were giving their best effort.
“It was senior night, we have a lot of respect for Ft. Madison, the conference title was on the line — and they’re just developing as a team,” he said.
The Panthers remain undefeated in the SEC (7-0) with one game left on their schedule — they play at Keokuk on Thursday, Oct. 24. Everyone else in the conference has at least two losses, so the Panthers have the SEC title sealed up.
“They’ve worked hard for it and I’m proud of them,” Schulz said.
In last night’s match, the Panthers came out determined.
They took a 9-5 lead early and maintained it, going up 22-15 and finishing on a three-point run for a win.
In game 2, the teams fought to a 9-9 tie. Mt. Pleasant was able to slowly gain an advantage from there, going up 20-15 and taking the win by a score of 25-17.
Game three was the Panthers’ toughest win of the night.
After taking a 5-0 lead to start the game and going up as much as 9-2, Mt. Pleasant lost libero Brianne Potts for a few plays after she suffered an injury while diving for a ball.
With Potts on the bench getting taped up, Ft. Madison got back in the game on a four-point run and eventually tied the score at 13.
The Panthers took the lead again at 17-16 on kill by Taryne Shull, and Shull had another kill to put the Panthers up 18-17.
Shayleigh Smith and Kelsi Phipps stepped up big at the end of the game — Smith had two blocks and a kill, while Phipps had a block and three kills — including back-to-back kills for the last two points of the match — to give Mt. Pleasant a 26-24 win.
On the night, the Panthers spread out their attack. Phipps, Shull, Lydia Smith and Brianne Holtkamp each had a team-high eight kills. Mary Wester added seven kills and Shayleigh Smith had five.
“There’s not a plan for that,” Schulz said. “The girls put themsevles in good position and the setter picks out the most efficient person — they have a lot of faith in each other. We couldn’t plan it better than that.”
Ashley Loving had 20 assists on the night and Hannah Becker added 17.
“We work hard in practice every day so that we’re confident (setting up) anyone,” Schulz said. “In the beginning of the year, we said we wanted five attackers on every play.”
That includes back row players, as Holtkamp and Potts demonstrated in last night’s match, with a couple key hits each from behind the 10-foot line.
“(Holtkamp) is wonderful and Potts is the same way,” Schulz said.
Potts had a team-high 24 digs and Holtkamp added 14.
Phipps put up six blocks on the night, while Shull added four. Shayleigh Smith had three and Wester had one.
Lydia Smith was a perfect 14-for-14 serving with a team-high three aces. Potts had two aces on 12-for-12 serving and Holtkamp also served two aces. Shull and Becker had one ace each.
Next up for the Panthers is their final conference match at Keokuk. Mt. Pleasant then hosts the Chiefs in the the first round of regionals on Monday, Oct. 28.