WHEELERSBURG — Throughout her career as a Wheelersburg Pirate, Abbie Kallner has dropped plenty of dimes — whether it’s been on the basketball floor or on the volleyball court.
On Thursday evening, the junior’s passing ability paid off in more ways than one.
With 36 assists, Kallner led the Wheelersburg volleyball program to a straight set victory over Waverly on Thursday evening. That straight set victory over the Lady Tigers moved Wheelersburg to 16-1 overall and a perfect 12-0 in conference play — the latter mark officially sealing up another SOC II Championship for a Wheelersburg athletic program. And with one big spike from Adyson Rase in the 12th volley of the third set of play on the way to the straight-set win and that SOC II crown, Kallner accomplished a historical mark of her own by eclipsing the 1,000-assist mark in a truly splendid evening at Wheelersburg High School.
Without question, obtaining so much in one evening would make anybody beam with pride. But with all of those accomplishments in mind, Kallner has even more pride in what her teammates have done in order to make the entire unit successful.
“It feels amazing,” Kallner said. “I’m just so blessed to be a part of this team and have the people around me that I have. Assists are something that are a two-way street, and I’m so thankful for my teammates over these past two years playing on the varsity level. I couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity.”
In Allen Perry’s eyes, however, all of the aforementioned accomplishments couldn’t have been obtained without the effective leadership and mental toughness that Kallner has been known for across multiple disciplines.
“Abbie’s been a leader for us from Day One,” Perry said. “She’s so smart. She runs a great offense. There’s so much more to setting than people think about. She sets the plays up, she sets the possessions on where we want the girls to hit from so we can attack on the other side. I put a lot of pressure on her, and she responds extremely well. She’s an athlete. I haven’t seen many better athletes than Abbie Kallner. I’ve just been blessed with her and Ellie (Ruby). What a big year. Just to be a first-year coach, and have two girls reach 1,000 digs and 1,000 assists, is amazing. I’m lucky to be here and have that opportunity to coach them.”
At first, Wheelersburg, who has only lost one set all year long to SOC II competition, struggled to get out of the gates as Waverly, behind excellent serve receiving, took an early 6-3 advantage.
However, that three-volley deficit quickly changed, mainly due to the fantastic play of Mallory Bergan on the frontline.
With the Lady Pirates needing a spark, the sophomore middle hitter wasted no time providing Wheelersburg with the energy necessary to take control of the matchup as Bergan, who obtained 17 kills and two blocks over the course of the evening, collected five kills and both of her blocks in the opening set alone — including four kills over the final seven volleys of the first game — to lead Wheelersburg on runs of 10-1 and 7-0 in the first set.
“The first set has been an example of Mallory’s entire year,” Perry said. “She starts out a little slow, but as the game goes along, much like the season has, she just really turns it on. She’s become a good middle hitter for us, as well as a middle blocker. She’s a presence around the net all the time, and that’s all you can ask for.”
In addition to Bergan’s efforts, Wheelersburg’s short serving game proved to be on, as well. The Lady Pirates obtained three aces in the opening set alone — including two from Ellie Ruby — en route to claiming the opening set by a 25-14 margin.
“We really work on (short serving),” Perry said. “At the beginning of the year, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we be successful?’ That’s one of the ways that we can exploit some of the serve receives. (Tricia) Boggs calls all of our serves. She calls a great game. I don’t even have to worry about that. I can work on other stuff, such as making adjustments, and can focus on talking to the girls and building them up. It works out really well. I’m just glad that I have the people around me that I have.”
In the second set, Wheelersburg, again, had to fight off Waverly’s scrappy efforts from a serve receive standpoint as the Lady Tigers turned a 7-4 deficit into an 11-10 lead behind the play of its backline.
At that point, however, the connection between Kallner, Bergan, and Alli McQuay really began to heat up.
With the second set still hanging in the balance, Kallner set up the sophomore duo time after time to end the frame as the duo combined for eight kills over the final 15 volleys of play in the set to allow the Lady Pirates to emerge with the win. McQuay, by herself, obtained four kills in a row to end the second set en route to obtaining 18 kills, nine digs, a block and an ace on the evening.
“Alli’s coming off a nagging injury,” Perry said. “It’s held her back over the last three games, and her timing’s been a little off because of the injury. But that’s going to get better. Hopefully, she’ll be back to her peak form going into the tournament. Even when she’s off, she’s a pretty good player, and when she’s off from a hitting standpoint, she’s usually serving aces for us or digging for us out of the back row. She’s just a player that you can depend on to help somewhere. If she’s not killing the ball, she’s going to help you somewhere around the rotation.”
As the second set wound down, the strong outputs of Bergan and McQuay allowed Kallner to move ever closer to the 1,000-assist mark.
By the time the second set came to a close, Kallner was sitting at 997 career assists, according to a banner that her teammates unveiled once the junior reached the 990 mark earlier in the second set.
Not surprisingly, the banner put some jitters in Kallner’s emotions.
“I got a little nervous,” Kallner said, smiling. “I was saying, ‘Cover the thing until I get it,’ but I was also counting in my head, and I shouldn’t have been doing that.”
But if Kallner did get nervous, it didn’t show on the placement of passes in the third set.
Thanks to the continued efforts of Bergan, Kallner, and McQuay on the frontline, Wheelersburg jumped out to a 6-0 run in turning a 2-2 tie into a commanding 8-2 lead. Two volleys later, Kallner took a pass from the back and set the ball up for Rase, who put the ball down on the left side of the floor to give Kallner her 1,000th assist, and from there, nine third-set kills from McQuay, including five in the final 18 volleys, allowed the Lady Pirates to close the deal.
“When Adyson (Rase) got the kill, it was just like ahhhh,” Kallner said, hands over her heart. “It was just awesome. It really was.”
“For Abbie to keep her composure, while that number on the banner keeps moving down and gets closer to 1,000 as she’s playing, shows her mental toughness,” Perry said. “She’s so mentally tough and keeps her composure. She knows where to get the points as a server, and we’ve been working long enough that she knew where she needed to go in order to get her assists.”
With the victory and the SOC II Championship in hand, Wheelersburg will now turn its attention to a gritty five-game slate as the Lady Pirates look to prepare properly for postseason play. North Adams and Portsmouth await first on Saturday morning in a Tri-Match that will be held in North Adams.
“Our schedule was designed that way,” Perry said. “We wanted some challenging matchups to get us ready for tournament time. That’s the idea. We’ve picked some good ones. We’ve got the North Adams Tri-Match, which Portsmouth is also attending, then you have Notre Dame, and two conference rivals in West and Valley to close the season out. It’s a good finish to the season so that we can go into the tournament prepared.”
But for now, the celebration, and the attention, all goes to a special student-athlete who has added yet another accomplishment to an already impressive list of them.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Kallner said. “We’ve really been pushing, and have done a great job this season. I’m so proud. We have the SOC II Championship, so it’s time to move on, and aim to make a strong postseason run. I couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of this program. I love my teammates, and I’m so, so super blessed to be with them.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7