WHEELERSBURG — Great teams, more often than not, find ways to win with the game on the line.
And in a matchup of two strong Scioto County programs, the Notre Dame Titans’ and the Wheelersburg Pirates’ volleyball program duked it out in a four-set match that lived up to the hype.
But with the cards down and the chips all in during the fourth set, it was Notre Dame who made the game-deciding plays.
With the Lady Titans trailing the Lady Pirates by a 19-15 margin in the fourth set, Notre Dame, behind three consecutive points from Lexi Smith and an excellent collective effort, rallied back to take the fourth set, 25-22 and the match, 3-1 (25-27, 25-11, 25-16, 25-22) on Wednesday evening in Wheelersburg.
For Kelsey Glockner, the entire winning effort couldn’t have come about without the dedication and commitment that the entire Notre Dame roster put forth into obtaining the positive result.
“It feels really, really, really good,” Glockner said. “Wheelersburg has such a great program and puts great athletes out on the floor. They always come out swinging. I love these community games with the stands filled and both teams competing to claim a victory. Our girls just were up for the challenge going into Wheelersburg’s home court, and they were just really ready to defend their side of the court in order to take the victory. It ended up just working out that way, and it was a great night for the Lady Titans.”
And even though the Lady Pirates fell on the losing end of the overall spectrum, Allen Perry still had plenty to be proud of as far as his 18-2 ballclub was concerned.
“I thought that it was a great match,” Perry said. “The girls really came out, battled back-and-forth with Notre Dame early, and finished strong there. Their experience showed up in the second and third set and they took control there, and in the fourth set, it got tight again. We just got too worried about the things that were going wrong, and things snowballed a little bit, but when you’re playing a team like Notre Dame, things like that can happen. I’m really proud of my girls.”
In the opening set of action, the contest quickly turned into a battle between Lexi Smith and Wheelersburg’s Mallory Bergan as the pair played like werewolves hunting and gathering prey. In all, Bergan collected five kills and two blocks while Smith garnered an astonishing 12 kills and an assisted block in the opening set alone as both programs tied or traded the lead 19 times in the first stanza alone.
However, despite Notre Dame ralling back from a 23-18 deficit en route to taking a 25-24 advantage, Wheelersburg never relented as the Lady Pirates scored three consecutive points thanks to Bergan’s efforts and the play of Alli McQuay, who obtained three kills in the first set, to grab a 27-25 first-set victory.
“Mallory really stepped up to the occasion,” Perry said. “And she’s just a sophomore. I really think she represented herself well. She notched some very good attack attempts on Friday evening. As for Alli, she’s just a clutch player. In a tough spot, she put up another solid showing. She was effective on the frontline, she played some fantastic defense, and man, she was placing her serves in good spots.”
The second set, however, proved to be all Smith and Notre Dame. After initially falling behind by a 1-0 deficit, the standout middle hitter added nine additional kills in the second frame — including four during a 14-3 Lady Titan run — to put Notre Dame ahead for good as the Lady Titans evened the match at one apiece with its 25-11 victory in the second set.
Smith, who eclipsed the 1,500-kill plateau in a straight-set win over East on Tuesday evening, put together nothing less than an astonishing effort on Wednesday evening as the senior obtained an incredible 34 kills on a .409 attack percentage and added 21 digs to go along with three solo and two assisted blocks in a masterful performance.
“I can’t say enough about Lexi,” Glockner said. “She does so much more for the team than simply obtaining kills, and she’s not worried about how many kills she gets. She’s only worried about doing what’s best for the team, and that’s one of her best qualities. We have put a lot of pressure on her, especially this year. We have put the team on her back a lot, and she’s always not only up for the task, but coming through when that task is asked of her. She definitely was able to come through for us tonight.”
However, Smith was far from the only Notre Dame player to collect a strong effort. That was evident in the third set, when the Lady Titans got excellent outings from Katie Dettwiller, Clara Hash, and Taylor Schmidt during the frame as the trio combined for seven kills en route to a 25-16 third set victory that the Lady Titans led from wire to wire.
“Clara, Katie, and Taylor are three great players who bring three different aspects to the game, and I love what they each bring to the table,” Glockner said. “Katie comes up with those big swings, Clara’s got a really fluid approach, and Taylor has been working so much on placement cut shots. They were all three able to use different skills to the table in order to get it done, and it’s always nice when all of that happens on the same night. I also thought that the defense really got it done. They got some balls off of great swings from Wheelersburg, and got the ball in Cassie (Schaefer’s) hands. Alex Glockner stepped up tonight, and Ali Smith came up with huge one-handed defense and great, solid defense all the way around. It was just really, really exciting to watch.”
Even with the 2-1 lead, however, Wheelersburg came right back and put the heat on Notre Dame behind the play of Bergan and McQuay as the Lady Pirates fended off 17 ties or lead changes over the first 25 volleys to take control of the fourth set behind four kills from the former and five kills, along with a block, from the latter. Bergan’s 11 digs, nine kills, and four blocks for the contest, along with 17 kills, 12 service points, six digs, two aces and a block from McQuay, allowed the Lady Pirates to take a 19-15 lead entering the final moments of the set.
However, following a Glockner timeout, the Lady Titans found a way to persevere one last time.
With the game on the line, Notre Dame obtained five consecutive points, including a kill from Clara Hash, to take over the point. Then, when Wheelersburg battled right back to take a 22-21 lead, the Lady Titans went back to the well with Smith, who obtained a block and two kills to cap off the most crucial run of the night — that of the 4-0 variety — to seal the deal.
“Notre Dame placed the ball really well on their attack attempts,” Perry said. “We made some different defensive shifts and things like that, and in the fourth set, we responded really well. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
“It’s something that we really, really work on as a team,” Glockner said of staying tuned in and together during a match. “The girls probably get tired of me saying the same things over and over, but they have bought in. We talk about discipline, and how making mistakes isn’t the problem but more or less how you react to them. We have talked about controlling our side of the court, staying glued together as a team, and checking in mentally when the ball is in play. We talk about giving a perfect effort every time that we’re out on the court and only taking a break when it’s a legitimate rotation, a dead ball, or a side-out. It’s those extra steps that make a good team great, and they’re the little steps that we’ve been making. We’ve been trying all year long, but it’s really starting to come together now toward the end of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing how much these girls can grow together.”
With the victory, added the Lady Pirates to list of teams that they’ve defeated in a special year for the program, who has also collected victories over Clay and Portsmouth en route to a 16-5 mark. Notre Dame went to New Boston on Thursday evening for its final SOC I and regular season matchup of 2017 on Thursday evening — a matchup that Glockner knew wouldn’t be an easy one to master heading into the contest.
“What New Boston’s putting together is a great thing,” Glockner said. “It’s great for the SOC. I love to see programs getting better all the way around. We’re absolutely not going to overlook them. Kendra (Holbrook) has done a great job there, and they have a great team with really good athletes who can jump up, swing, and keep you on your toes. The girls are going to have to show great poise, discipline, and a great gameplan in order to reach their goal of going undefeated in the SOC I.”
As for Wheelersburg, the Lady Pirates, who still hold a strong 18-2 mark on the season, still have plenty to play for, without question. In fact, Wheelersburg, who hosted Valley on Thursday, could finish its SOC I slate undefeated with a victory over the Lady Indians.
“Valley’s much improved, and they’re going to be ready to play, as will we,” Perry said. “We’ll see what happens.”
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