PINCKNEYVILLE — It was understandable that Pinckneyville’s volleyball team might be off to a slow start this year since it was working under its third coach in as many years.
Add a 20-day break from competition because of a COVID-19 pause and the Panthers had even more reason to expect their machinery not to run so smoothly out of the gate.
But in the last week, they have shown why so many expect so much out of them.
With Addie Waggoner pounding down 17 kills, Lily Tanner shining all over the floor and 6-1 senior Kassidy Lee dominating the net, they toppled Carterville 23-25, 25-20, 25-21 in an intense SIRR Mississippi showdown Tuesday night.
“We’ve been working on our defense and our blocking and it showed tonight,” said coach Katie Shaneyfelt. “Our passing wasn’t as good as it could have been tonight, but I think our kids did a good job of not playing with emotion. They just played the game.”
Pinckneyville (7-4, 3-1) has won four straight matches since a straight-set defeat Sept. 16 at Du Quoin, their first match in nearly three weeks. Shaneyfelt came down with COVID-19, putting the program in a two-week pause.
Even for a team with proven players up and down their roster, that kind of extended break wasn’t going to help. But since falling to their Perry County rivals, the Panthers have resembled the team that won the conference in the spring and played for a sectional title in 2019.
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The 2019 team was coached by Cathy Kohnen, who is now running the program at Breese Central. Last spring’s squad was guided by Mike Layne, who stepped away from the team in the summer for health reasons.
Shaneyfelt inherited a neatly-stacked cupboard, including a cool-headed setter with her bloodlines. Younger daughter Jillian doled out 37 assists and came up with a critical kill in the second game that sparked a key run.
“She kind of took over a little bit and decided we weren’t going to lose,” Katie Shaneyfelt said. “Everybody contributed to that win, though.”
Tanner finished with 11 kills and provided splendid back-row defense, playing with the kind of urgency a senior seems to find. Lee added nine kills and a whopping 5 ½ blocks, while Emily Ruppert supplied 22 digs.
While Pinckneyville celebrated at the end of a well-earned win, Lions coach Nathan Emrick reflected on the slow starts that dragged his team down in every game.
“If we want to make a run at a River-to-River championship and a regional championship, we’re going to have to learn how to play for longer stretches without having letdowns,” he said. “And I’m going to have to learn how to get them in better position to do that.”
Even when Carterville (17-3, 2-2) lashed together a rally to win the first game, it did so after trailing 7-2. It then fell behind 18-9 in the second game before pulling within 21-19, and had to dig out of 7-1 and 20-14 holes in the deciding game.
The Lions equalized at 20 on Ally Lange’s block, but simply couldn’t get over the hump. Waggoner bagged consecutive kills and Tanner chimed in for a 23-20 lead. A ballhandling violation got the Panthers to match point and Waggoner played the role of closer.
“It’s mentally exhausting, it’s physically exhausting and it’s mentally exhausting,” Emrick said of chasing the game. “We just can’t do that. We have to do a better job of not digging a huge hole so that we don’t have to fight back over and over again.”