SHABBONA - Sophomore twin sisters Kylie and Alex Koontz have provided many stellar moments throughout the 2017 volleyball season for the Leland-Earlville Lady Panthers. However, none were any bigger than those they turned in during Tuesday's very hard-fought 26-24, 21-25, 25-19 Class 1A Regional semifinal victory over Paw Paw here at Indian Creek High School.
Kylie Koontz pounded down a game-high 14 kills and five stuff blocks, including four critical winners and one swat-down late in Game 1 that saved her club from bowing out in two sets to the Lady Bulldogs.
Alex Koontz followed with nine kills, 15 digs, 14 assists, six points and two aces as the pair propelled the No. 4 seeded Lady Panthers into Thursday's 6 p.m. championship match set for against top-seeded Sterling Newman.
L-E (20-9) also got some great help from senior Emily Cook (20 digs, 13 points, two aces, four kills), junior Amanda Meyers (17 digs), as well as senior Lynsey Nelson and junior Kelsey Chapman (12 digs apiece). But it was the Koontz sisters that sparked the winning effort and sent the Lady Panthers in search of their first regional volleyball championship as a co-op.
"It was a great rally in that first set with Kylie really taking control at the net in the late stages," said veteran L-E coach Tonya Scherer. "Alex was also amazing tonight with her kills that were very tough to handle because they came in so hard. But kudos to Paw Paw because their defense was excellent tonight and they dug up a lot and made it tough on us."
Paw Paw (19-18) completed its finest season in recent memory, getting 10 kills and five points and a block from promising freshman Trysta Foster. Junior Riley Oros posted 10 winners and five tallies. Seniors Joslyn Hopkins (nine assists, seven points, three kills) and Lee Ann Smith (nine assists) also contributed, though the Lady Bulldogs just couldn't close out the opening set, then fell short of closing out the match in Game 3.
"I was proud of my girls and this was tough to lose because we had a chance to win that first set before we won game two," said PPHS coach Jennifer Penman. "It was a hard way to end a very successful season especially because we have seven seniors on this ball club, but I'm sure the girls won't forget how well we played this year."
The Lady Bulldogs trailed in the nip-and-tuck opener 20-17, and after a sideout and five consecutive L-E court errors, Paw Paw led 23-20. There, Kylie Koontz came alive in a huge way with a middle kill at the net, a block, two tip kills and a final laser beam winner on set point that concluded a 6-1 L-E rally and capture the opening set.
"What was in my brain the whole time during that rally is that I knew I had to do my job so my team could do theirs," Kylie Koontz said. "It was so huge for us to win that first set because we didn't play too well in the second."
L-E led 19-16 in Game 2 before Paw Paw went on a 9-2 run to grab the lead when Oros' hard middle kill on game point evened the match.
But the Lady Panthers led from start to finish in Set 3 as Kylie Koontz registered five more kills while Alex Koontz pounded home three as L-E won in comfortable fashion.
"Tonight was our 20th win, so that was huge for us," Scherer said. "We've talked all season about setting goals and one of those goals was to win a regional championship. I believe we're very capable of it and if we play our game you never know what can happen. We're all pretty excited about the chance on Thursday."