WAVERLY — Simply put, when Wheelersburg’s Pirates capture a volleyball district championship anymore, it’s basically business as usual.
Not much pomp and circumstance celebration, or even rowdy and wild court storming for that matter.
In fact, the proud Pirate program plans on reaching this postseason point every single year.
On Saturday at Waverly High School, the top-seeded Pirates won their sixth consecutive Division III district championship — sweeping past sixth-seeded Southeastern 25-15, 25-21 and 25-15, and locking up their eighth district title in program history.
In addition to the six straight, Wheelersburg won district championship as well in 2009 and 2014.
With the latest win, the Pirates —Southern Ohio Conference Division II co-champions with South Webster —raised their stellar record to 24-1, and amassed their 13th consecutive victory.
They opened at 11-0, then lost at South Webster with another five-set thriller on Sept. 20, but haven’t lost since.
In fact, only three of those 24 triumphs have extended beyond three sets —a four-set win over West on Aug. 23, a five-set epic over South Webster two days later, and finally a four-set win over North Adams on Oct. 1.
So Wheelersburg won in similar short fashion on Saturday —needing only an hour and 10 minutes maximum.
The Pirates were cruising along in the third set, storming out to advantages as large as 13 three times (18-5, 20-7 and 23-10) — although Southeastern scored five of the final seven points, making the set score somewhat respectable.
“I thought our girls came out super-focused and our system was on point. We were executing a lot of good things,” said Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry. “The second set, still some adversity we were fighting through, but we refocused and finished that set off. To lose the momentum, then regain it and be able to win a close set was important. We were then able to execute a lot of things in that third set.”
Against the underdog but pesky Panthers on Saturday, the Pirates’ only opening-set deficits were three one-pointers —at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2.
Wheelersburg pulled even each time, as a five-point flurry pushed the Pirates ahead —as they only trailed in the match at two other junctures (13-12 second set and 15-14 second set).
There were second-set ties at 9-9, 10-10, 11-11, 12-12, 13-13, 14-14 and finally 15-15 —as a Gracie Perkins kill forced the 15-15 deadlock, which was the last time the Pirates trailed.
Southeastern’s Morgan Ware got a kill to bring the Panthers within 22-21, but Wheelersburg won the final three points —Madie Mays kills sandwiched around another Perkins spike.
The senior standout Mays paced the tall and athletic Pirates in kills with 10 —followed by the sophomore Perkins and senior Lexie Rucker with nine apiece, and seven from fellow senior yet setter Makenna Walker.
The Pirates’ front line totaled 16 blocks —five from Mays, four from Perkins, and three apiece by Walker and Gracie Woodward.
Mays also served for two aces, while Rucker with 13 and libero Kiera Kennard and fellow senior Madison Whittaker with 14 apiece were double-digit diggers.
Walker set for all but 10 (26) of the Pirates’ 36 assists, and perhaps could have had two more —as she injured her knee diving for a ball very late in the third game.
Walker went down, and remained as such, with the Pirates needing just two points to win.
Eventually, she did get up and got helped to the Wheelersburg bench —as she stood for celebratory team photos with an ice bag on her knee.
However, she did have a smile on her face —and told The Portsmouth Daily Times when asked afterwards, “I’ll be alright.”
The injury, with Wheelersburg facing Adena in the Division III regional semifinals on Thursday night at Logan High School, actually overshadowed the Pirates’ celebration.
But Walker was in good spirits, and Perry discussed the situation.
“We need to get her in to a specialist and get an opinion of exactly what’s going on, but she is definitely our main concern right now. She is the power drive in our system,” said the coach. “She hurt it (knee), hyper-extended it in the first set, and then she landed on it, right on the kneecap, on that dive. We’re going to have to look at it closer. We’re relieved she appears to be okay, but we’re going to have to see what happens with that.”
Walker was somewhat limited in the second set, said Perry, but played through before being unfortunately unable to finish.
While Walker’s untimely injury impacted the Pirates’ postgame mood to some degree, their demeanor didn’t change throughout the match.
That was win each game, and advance on to Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium — for a sixth straight regional semifinal.
The five Pirate seniors were all freshmen three years ago —when Wheelersburg won its only regional championship in program history.
Four years later, those goal-oriented gals are once again district champions.
“All of our wins are good team wins. All the girls work together with a focused approach. We have five seniors (Rucker, Kennard, Whittaker, Walker and Mays) out there, they play six different rotations, and one freshman (Woodward) and one sophomore (Perkins). It takes every single one of them, not to mention our bench,” said Perry. “And I’ve said this 1,000 times, I have the best coaching staff there is. We set some goals at the beginning of the season, and we wanted to check off one more of those.”
The next goal, of course, is to upend Adena —which swept Zane Trace on Saturday in another district final at Waverly.
The Pirates play the powerhouse Warriors on Thursday night at Logan —with first serve set for 7:30 p.m.
Wheelersburg and Adena did not play in the regular season, although both are responsible for —in five sets apiece only two days apart in late August —South Webster’s two losses.
“Adena is always one of the top teams in the state, one of the best defensive and well-coached teams around. Always very disciplined,” praised Perry. “But I’m really happy for these five seniors and these younger girls going back to the regionals again, and they have even more goals they want to check off.”