Jeeps jump out in front


South Webster’s Bella Claxon (10) and Mia Crum (9) go up for a block against Wheelersburg junior Gracie Perkins (1) during Tuesday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II volleyball match at South Webster High School.

Ed Litteral | Daily Times

SOUTH WEBSTER — Simply put, in a season-opening top-tier totem-pole volleyball bout in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II, South Webster’s experience got the best of Wheelersburg’s senior-less circuit.

It revealed itself the most in a fourth and ultimately decisive set on Tuesday night, when the host Jeeps absolutely erased a seemingly insurmountable 19-10 deficit —and captured that individual game in overtime.

Indeed, the stronghold Jeeps just showed some resolve against the young, inexperienced and new-look Pirates —winning a key early-season conference clash by a count of 25-12, 22-25, 25-16 and finally 27-25.

For the past decade, it’s been an SOC II title chase that’s pretty much run through Wheelersburg —as the Pirates won at least a share of the championship from 2014 thru 2019, before South Webster shared it with them in 2020 and again last year.

The Jeeps were the outright crown winners two years ago, as the seniors of this season played key roles on the Division IV state tournament team.

Speaking of seniors, the Pirates graduated five good ones off last season’s squad —and are without any for this year.

But they seized an initial 19-10 advantage in the second set, and although the Jeeps stormed back to get within 24-22 —a Gracie Perkins kill ended it for the Pirates.

However, the Jeeps completed that comeback in the fourth game —to take an early leg up on Wheelersburg, and the remainder of the division.

During a timeout, SWHS head coach Darcee Claxon —having mentored the Jeeps for the past two decades — implored her veteran squad to “figure it out”.

“I called that timeout and said we’ve allowed them to take control of this game. We were going to find out real quick what we’re made of. Either we were going to respond or we weren’t. At that point, you can’t play the game for them. They know what they were doing wrong, and you have to make corrections. As a competitor, figure it out. And they figured it out,” said Claxon. “I take for granted that everybody out on that court has experience in big games. But we have a couple of girls that don’t. I’m proud of them for responding and they showed what they are made of.”

With the combination of Wheelersburg attack errors, and the Jeeps collecting kills, South Webster was back within four one-point deficits (21-20, 22-21, 23-22 and 24-23) — before a Mia Crum kill tied it at 24-all.

That was the first deadlock in the set since the final of five at 6-6.

The Jeeps then staked their first lead of the entire set —thanks to a Pirate ballhandling error.

An attack error by the Jeeps tied it at 25-25, but the final of 16 Pirate service errors — a serve just long enough to be ruled out of bounds — gave the Jeeps the one-point (26-25) edge.

Makayla Raynard, a junior hitter, had the match-clinching kill, as she tied three others for a match-high 10 — senior teammate Bella Claxon and Wheelersburg’s most experienced tandem of Perkins and Grace Woodward.

Wheelersburg head coach Allen Perry agreed upon the Jeeps’ experience playing out.

“They just chipped away at us, and that’s what a good experienced team does. They are well-coached, and you just can’t let a good team eat away at those points. But we’re inexperienced, and this is a good learning experience for my girls,” he said. “We’re going to take this one home with us, and see if we can build on it.”

South Webster, in winning the opening set 25-12 and after trailing 3-2, and in taking the third set 25-16 and after trailing only 1-0, took advantage of Perkins’ turns out of the rotation.

Wheelersburg’s middle blocker towers over most players —standing six feet and one inch tall.

Wheelersburg junior middle blocker Gracie Perkins (1) goes up for a kill during the Pirates’ Southern Ohio Conference Division II volleyball match against South Webster on Tuesday night.

Ed Litteral | Daily Times

“Gracie is a game-changer when she is in, but unfortunately we can’t play her across the front row for six rotations. It’s just a matter of unfortunate timing that she was coming out when she did, but we were still making errors when she was in,” said Perry.

That Wheelersburg was —highlighted by 16 service errors.

Only Woodward and setter Ella Chamberlin, with two apiece, had aces.

“Our service errors really surprised me, because I think we’re generally a pretty good serving team,” admitted Perry. “I expected some hitting errors and other offensive and defensive errors this early, but I didn’t expect that many serving.”

When Perkins was in the rotation, the up-front likes of Raynard, 5-7 Bella Claxon and the 5-9 Crum came to match wits.

Crum had three blocks and Claxon a pair, as Claxon set for 23 assists — and served up four of the Jeeps’ 11 aces.

In attacking, South Webster amounted 41 team kills.

“Wheelersburg is a young team. Gracie (Perkins) probably has the most experience out there. She is hard to stop because she is very long. But you still have to figure out how to respond and make adjustments. There were some things we did tonight that were uncharacteristic of us and we haven’t done all preseason, but it’s better to get it out now so we can figure it out,” said Coach Claxon. “For example, it’s hard to go against Gracie’s size. Mia (Crum) was giving up a lot of inches there. But I think Mia held her own, she put balls away. To be undersized for a middle the way she is, I thought she gave a pretty daggone good performance out there.”

Collectively, the Jeeps did that serving the ball — as Claxon and sophomore libero Addi Claxon had a dozen points apiece.

They put the Pirates on the defensive —with Woodward recording 18 digs, libero Mylee Gleim 16, Chamberlin 15 and Alyssa Mullins 10.

Wheelersburg libero Mylee Gleim (14) goes for a return during the Pirates’ Southern Ohio Conference Division II volleyball match against South Webster on Tuesday night.

Ed Litteral | Daily Times

Chamberlin set for 30 assists on 36 attempts, as Addi Claxon led the Jeeps with 18 digs —while senior Skylar Zimmerman with 11 digs and 10 assists also chipped in.

While the SOC schedule should be rotating, it hasn’t since 2020’s coronavirus-impacted campaign —and thus Wheelersburg and South Webster are facing each other in the opening league match.

Both coaches were asked about that —as Wheelersburg will host the Jeeps on Sept. 14.

South Webster’s Maryn Smith (14) goes up for a block against Wheelersburg’s Brooklyn Miller (11) and Grace Woodward (5) during Tuesday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II volleyball match at South Webster High School.

Ed Litteral | Daily Times

On Thursday night, South Webster swept West in the SOC II —as the Jeeps travel on Saturday to face non-league and Southeastern Ohio annual powerhouse Adena.

First serve is set for 11 a.m. —as the Jeeps, Pirates and Warriors were all Southeast District Division III champions last season.

“For both us and Wheelersburg, we go through the gauntlet right away. But I like that from the standpoint that I know immediately what we have to work on. And I never lose sight of the fact that we’re always preparing for that second season (OHSAA postseason tournament),” said Coach Claxon. “So we need to know early.”

“The schedule is the schedule, so all we can do is look at the game in front of us and go after it. We have a really young team, but they work hard and they have a lot of talent. We have a long way to go, and it’s not ideal that we play a team with that much experience this early on in the season, but we take them as we go,” added Perry. “It’s a high-pressure match and these girls have to get some experience, and I think this is a good atmosphere for that.”

Truth be told, the Pirates and Jeeps could meet three times this season —as a third and final meeting would take place in the Division III Region 11 tournament.

Tuesday night’s opener, actually being honest, had a regional tournament type of feel for it.

“I hope we have a chance to meet them in the regionals,” said Perry, with a laugh. “That would be great.”

In the meantime, as Wheelersburg won its first match on Thursday night by defeating host Waverly in four sets, these young Pirates will only gain invaluable experience.

“Our girls put together a good game tonight, and they have nothing to be ashamed of. They fought hard, they stayed in it and gained a lot of experience and court time,” said Perry. “You can learn a lot in a match like this.”

What we learned on Tuesday night was that the Jeeps’ experience paid off.

“We’re here to compete. We’re here to be competitors, and sometimes you need pushed to be a competitor,” said Claxon. “Just really proud of these girls for their resilience and for the fight that they showed tonight.”

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on X @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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