PAXTON — Take your pick:
— The finesse of a gymnast;
— The power of a heavyweight boxer;
— The determination of an ultra-marathoner;
— The tenacity of a lion.
Just name it. The Paxton-Buckley-Loda volleyball team has it.
In Thursday’s showdown for supremacy in the Sangamon Valley Conference, PBL dispatched St. Joseph-Ogden 25-19, 25-19 in a memorable Senior Night performance.
It’s the first league championship for the Panthers in the sport in eight years and moves the 22-3 team to within two wins of matching its season record for victories.
In the preseason, senior outside hitter Kandace Hofer had a good feeling about the year because “we all love volleyball.”
With the SVC Tournament next up for the Panthers — and on their own home court starting Wednesday night — she loves what she’s seeing when the team is together.
“We are all on top of our game,” Hofer said.
Hofer had a match-high 10 kills. Another senior, Kayla Cowan, handed out 20 assists. When the team needed one more point to wrap up the two-set sweep, senior Amanda Ypya got it with a block.
Senior Kaylee Genzel served aces in each set, and the fifth PBL senior starter, Kortnie Schroeder, slammed kills in each set.
The triumph capped a week for coach Kristin Oyer’s team in which wins were earned over three opponents with a combined 61-10 record.
“They’re using adrenaline to their advantage, instead of getting nervous,” Oyer said. “This is the best mental team I’ve had.
“They use the adrenaline to get themselves pumped.”
The Panthers are demonstrating how deceiving looks can be. Among the team’s top eight players, only 5-foot-10 junior middle hitter Kailey Kleinert stands taller than 5-6.
“People underestimate them because they’re not real tall,” Oyer said. “They’re surprised at the power we have. The kills are up this year.”
The offense is smooth and effective, not just because of the veteran presence on the court.
“Our passing,” Hofer said, “is the key.”
Junior libero Jori Maynard handles that role with ease. She had a match-high five digs, and when PBL was on the verge of the first-set win, she served an ace to clinch it.
“These girls had high goals,” Oyer said. “They are setting the bar and pushing it up.”
PBL and SJ-O could meet again in each of the next two weeks. PBL is the top seed and the Spartans No. 2 in the upcoming SVC Tournament as well as in the Unity Regional.
Shelby Simmons led SJ-O (20-6) with six kills, four blocks and three digs. Sydney Stone had 12 assists.