Sports

Panthers roar to SEC title

Mt. Pleasant finishes 2-day tournament 4-1 to claim crown

The 2020 Southeast Conference champion Mt. Pleasant volleyball team. (Andy Krutsinger/The Union)
The 2020 Southeast Conference champion Mt. Pleasant volleyball team. (Andy Krutsinger/The Union)
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MT. PLEASANT — As the crowd thinned out in the Southeast Conference tournament, the top two seeded teams, Burlington and Fort Madison, played in what was expected to be the SEC championship after a grueling two-day tournament. But near by in the stands were some very interested onlookers; a Mt. Pleasant squad that upset the Grayhounds and held off Fairfield earlier in the day to give themselves some title hopes.

Mt. Pleasant needed Burlington to beat Fort Madison in the final match to clinch a surprise championship, and the Grayhounds took care of business, leaving the Panthers as the rightful heirs to the SEC crown.

Mt. Pleasant started the day with an upset of Burlington, a team that didn’t lose a set on Day 1. The Panthers handed the Grayhounds their first loss in SEC tournament history, grinding out a first set victory and then pummeling the Grayhounds 25-15 to clinch a 2-0 sweep. That sent a shock wave through the tournament standings and tied the two teams up at 3-1.

“I was really proud,” said Mt. Pleasant head coach David Streeter. “I told them afterward, ‘that’s what I’ve been waiting for all season.’”

After beating Burlington, Mt. Pleasant battled Fairfield. The Panthers staved off a fierce Trojan comeback in the first set and ran away with the second to sweep 25-22 and 25-15.

And then it was the waiting game. The Panthers looked on anxiously as Burlington won a three-set nail-biter over a Fort Madison team that would’ve held the tiebreaker over Mt. Pleasant. When the Grayhounds scored the final point, Mt. Pleasant’s portion of the stands erupted.

“That was definitely the most nerve-racking game that I’ve ever watched, or played in,” said Panther senior Karsyn Lamm. “We knew what was on the line.”

It was especially pleasing given what Mt. Pleasant had went through in the two weeks leading up. The roster had been decimated by COVID-19 quarantines, lost star middle hitter Avery Sutter to injury, and had to play without setter Ralyn Seberg untl Tuesday night. But despite it all, the Panthers stood tall and earned Mt. Pleasant’s first SEC championship since 2013.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve done this,” said senior Elli Liechty. “It’s really exciting.”

Despite the loss to Mt. Pleasant, Fairfield had a nice day, going 2-1 on Tuesday and 3-2 overall to take third. Fairfield swept Keokuk 25-12, 25-9, and took out Washington 25-13, 25-11 after going 1-1 in last week’s first round. They also held the tiebreaker over Fort Madison after beating them on the first night of play.

“Our first game against Keokuk was a lot of fun,” said Fairfield head coach Diana Drish. “We blocked really well. We played defense really well, and we finished.”

After the loss to Fairfield, Washington played two tight sets against Keokuk, but the Chiefs crawled out with a win in both, sweeping the Demons 25-20 and 25-23. Washington finished 0-5 overall in the tournament.

FINAL TOURNAMENT STANDINGS:

1. Mt. Pleasant 4-1

2. Burlington 4-1

3. Fairfield 3-2

4. Fort Madison 3-2

5. Keokuk 1-4

6. Washington 0-5