PAXTON — Paxton-Buckley-Loda volleyball is a win away from putting an end to a long regional title drought.
That chance will arrive Thursday night on the Panthers’ home floor.
Third-seeded PBL prevailed 25-19, 25-21 over No. 5 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin during Tuesday night’s Class 2A PBL Regional semifinal match.
“It has been a while,” PBL coach Lindsay Stalowy said after the Panthers advanced to a regional championship for the first time since 2012. “The regional pairings around here have been very tough. Typically, whoever comes out of one of these regionals in the Champaign area goes pretty far at state. It’s been a tough road, but we’re happy to be playing on Thursday night.”
The road to the Panthers winning their first regional title since 2004 will go through Unity. The second-seeded Rockets reached the regional final via a 25-16, 25-16 win over No. 6 Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in the first semifinal match on Tuesday. Emma Bleecher paced Unity (31-5) with 11 kills and Jalyn Powell distributed 26 assists.
Jessica Freehill led the Falcons (19-14) with six kills.
“We knew Unity was going to be a challenge,” GCMS coach Taylor Rubarts said. “We were prepared and worked for a challenging game. You don’t get into the postseason without facing the best.”
Unity, which has won four straight matches and six of its last seven, swept PBL when the two teams met on Sept. 24 in Tolono.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive game,” Unity coach Kylie Hockersmith said. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. It’s going to be a grind and a good match.”
Before the rematch could happen, the Panthers (30-5) had to overcome an 8-2 deficit in the first set against BHRA (21-9) as two kills by Emily Meidel and aces by Emma Clapp and Sophia Rome resulted in an early Blue Devils’ lead.
“We competed very hard,” BHRA coach Susan Kentner sad. “I thought, in the first half of the first set, we were on point with exactly what we wanted to do.”
PBL, however, erased its deficit with an 8-3 run before going on to take the first set and came out on top in a back-and-forth second set that saw a couple key plays from the likes of Addison Oyer, (16 kills) Baylee Cosgrove (six kills) and Makenna Klann (12 assists, eight digs) down the stretch.
“Our outsides came in strong for us. I’m really pleased with (Oyer and Cosgrove),” Stalowy said. “They mixed up their shots.”