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FALL SPORTS PREVIEW: Powerful hitters look to lead Panther attack

Hutchinson in as head coach for the 2014 season
By ALLYUS FRITZ/Ledger sports editor | Aug 27, 2014
Photo by: ALLYUS FRITZ/Ledger photo The 2014 Pekin volleyball juniors and seniors are, from left, front row: Madelyn Baker, Mallory Reed, Whitney Horras, Shelbi Talley, Victoria Lisk, Maggie Brown; middle row: Nikole Arendt, Taylea Manley, Emily Bemis, Madison Lathrop, Courtney Comstock; back row: Cassidy Tolle, Elizabeth Atwood, Kaysha Dodson and Shelbie Williams. Tessa Winn, Beth Atwood and Ashley Lucas are not pictured.

The Panthers have a new volleyball coach this season, but his familiarity with the program could not be higher.

Ken Hutchinson has coached the JV team for the past six seasons, and will be taking over the head coaching duties for the varsity team this fall. Ashley Bartels, who coached Pekin last season and the previous three, decided to step down for the 2014 campaign because of the birth of her second child.

Hutchinson has taken over her duties for the time being, and he hopes he can raise the team’s level of play during his tenure. The Panthers went 11-11 last season, and bowed out in the postseason with a defeat at West Branch. Pekin returns most of its hitting prowess, but did lose valuable specialty seniors, such as Jessica Horras, Tiana Slaney and Taiylor Morgan.

“We didn’t lose a lot of big hitters from last season to this season,” Hutchinson said. “What we did lose is a couple of great passers and defensive specialists.”

Returning to the starting lineup this season is senior Whitney Horras, who recorded 297 assists last season as the setter.

“Whitney will probably be the setter that we go with at the start,” Hutchinson said. “We have a couple of other backup setters with relatively decent hands, but the advantage of having Whitney in there is she’s roughly 5’9”, and with her long arms and long legs she can put a block up in the front row. So there’s three rotations in the front row where we have her setting and blocking too.”

Junior Beth Atwood returns to middle hitter. Atwood led the team with 192 kills in 2013. Flanking Atwood will be outside hitter Madelyn Baker, who is now a senior and is ready to one-up her 73-kill performance of last season.

Cassidy Tolle will also see time at outside hitter. Junior Shelbie Williams enter the rotation as a middle hitter, and Hutchinson is excited about having a player with her height and aggressiveness.

“Shelbie’s a power hitter,” Hutchinson said. “We have to control her a little bit because she goes up and hits it hard every time, and there are times where it goes out or lands right on the line because of it.”

Other players that will receive considerable playing time are Mallory Reed as a right side hitter, Courtney Comstock as a back row player and Emily Bemis, who will take the role of passer and digger for the Panthers.

The SEISC-North is shaping up to be extremely difficult. Mediapolis is set to lead the charge, while IMS, Wapello and Winfield-Mount Union are all poised to have great years once again. The Panthers will look to their powerful hitters and to their scrappy defenders to get them above the .500 mark and to take them further into the postseason.

“I see us being a little better this year,” Hutchinson said. “We have the girls that can run a little offense instead of just passing it and setting it to the ceiling. These girls are excited to run some offense and to learn.”


Head CoachKen Hutchinson, 1st Year


Key ReturneesS Whitney Horras (Sr.), MH Beth Atwood (Jr.), OH Madelyn Baker (Sr.)


2014 Pekin Volleyball Varsity Schedule

8/25 @ WACO Tournament

8/28 Pekin Triangular

9/4 @ Winfield-Mount Union

9/9 @ Sigourney

9/11 vs. Mediapolis

9/16 vs. Highland

9/18 @ IMS

09/25-27 @ Conference Tournament

9/30 vs. Louisa Muscatine

10/2 @ Lone Tree

10/7 vs. WACO

10/9 @ Wapello

10/14 vs. Columbus

10/21 Regionals First Round (TBA)

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