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The 2021 Pana High School volleyball team is comprised of, in front from left, Jadyn Bearup, Sierra Richards, Emily Blackwell and Kady Perry. Second row, Aryn Alde, Olivia Anderson and Rachel Holthaus. In back, Coach Kelsey Schneider, Coach Tessa Rodman; Chloe Ashcraft, Lainey Hicks, Kiley Ladage, Jillian Hamilton and Coach Greg Cothern and Coach Mary Cothern.
PANA — Starting his ninth season as the head coach of the Pana High School volleyball team, Greg Cothern has an abundance of senior talent to take them a long way into the post season. Jillian Hamilton, outside hitter; Lainey Hicks, middle hitter; and Kiley Ladage, outside hitter will make a formidable front at the net.
“We are looking for all of our senior players to be great leaders, no matter what their role is on the team, Cothern said. “Whether they are on the court or cheering from the side, all of the seniors will be what holds our varsity squad together.”
Senior setter Rachel Holthaus and junior setter Emily Blackwell will be in charge of running the offense. He said another player making an early impact is senior Jadyn Bearup.
“We have a couple of other juniors who are right there working hard to beat someone out of a position and it will be interesting to see how this competition will play out,” said Cothern.
Other returnees who are expected to make a contribution are Chloe Ashcraft, a junior, at right side hitter and Sierra Richards, another junior, at libero. The Panthers lost a strong trio of seniors to graduation from last year. They are Carsen Sims, outside hitter; Alivia Reed, setter; and Brayer Denton, defensive specialist.
“We have been putting in a lot of work the last couple of weeks to get ourselves as ready as we can be for our first match,” the coach said. “The girls are working hard and we have seen some very good things out of our players.”
The coach is also looking for the season to have some normalcy as compared to last season.
“To say that last season was crazy would be an understatement,” said Cothern. “While we ended the season on a very positive note (16-2 overall), there are a few things that I will take away from the spring volleyball season. One, just how precious our athletic activities are to those who enjoy coaching, playing, and watching them. The other lesson I will take away from this odd season is how resilient our volleyball players can be. From the time basketball season ended we had 1 day of practice without our girls doing “double duty” and then our first match. During that time we had an overlap of sports and many of our girls were doing school and two different sport activities each night along with homework. I am proud of how our girls handled this transition.”
The season will feature four tournaments and Cothern says all of them are tough.
“All of the four tournaments we play in are difficult tournaments against some very difficult competition, those tournaments always make for interesting days as we see just where we stand in relation to some pretty tough competitors,” Cothern said. “As far as key matches, I believe the girls are looking forward to many of our conference matches.”
There has also been a shake up in the coaching ranks this season. Coach Kelsey Schneider, who was a volunteer back in 2012 and 2013, will be leading the fresh/soph squad. Tessa Rodman who was fresh/soph coach last year will be taking over the jun- ior varsity coaching role. Finally, former head coach Mary Cothern will once again put her volleyball coaching shoes back on at the high school level and be an assistant for the high school program.
The present Coach Cothern is a legacy. He is only the third head coach in the programs 47-year histo- ry. He took over from the aforementioned Mary Cothern, who is also his mother.
“I have been coaching volleyball since 1999 when I was in high school and acting as a volunteer coach for junior high here at Pana,” he recalls. “While I was in college I helped as a student assistant at Millikin University while working as a head volleyball coach and eighth grade volleyball coach at a nearby school district. In 2010 I joined the coaching staff of Pana High School and in 2012 I was hired following the retire- ment of my mother, Mary Cothern. I have grown up as a part of Pana’s volleyball program as my mother coached. I felt as if I belonged in the gym playing volleyball and I am in awe of the tradition and history that this program has, I knew I always wanted to coach here one day.”