WAVERLY – The Wheelersburg Pirates volleyball kicked off a day of district championships for the high school on Saturday afternoon.
In the district tournament finals, the Pirates edged Piketon 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-22) to advance to the regional tournament.
“It’s very exciting,” Wheelersburg senior Ellie Ruby said. “My goal this year was to get back to regionals, and we did it. So it’s one goal down, next is state hopefully.”
Ruby had a big day for the Pirates, totaling a perfect serve receive percentage and 22 digs.
For first year Wheelersburg head coach Allen Perry, it was a new experience and definitely one to be happy about.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Perry said. “I’m just surrounded by great players and great coaches. My assistant coaches do a fantastic job and the administration and support I get at Wheelersburg is just amazing.”
“I’m just super excited, the girls are excited. We’re going to go up there and show them what southern Ohio volleyball is all about.”
Getting to regionals was a tall order, though, as the Piketon Redstreaks presented numerous challenges. The Redstreaks have a very talented team, which includes SVC Player of the Year Cami Chandler.
Chandler would get hers, with 16 kills, but the efforts of her and Jordan Morris (15 kills, 16 digs) weren’t enough to defeat the balanced attack of Wheelersburg.
Despite the final match score, the Pirates were pushed to their limits. Especially early on in the match, when Piketon took an 8-3 lead in the first set.
Perry opted not to take a timeout, and Wheelersburg wasn’t going to falter.
“I didn’t take a timeout, because we’ve been there so many times early in the first set,” Perry said. “We generally start out slow … I really wasn’t concerned because I know they’ll fight back.”
Indeed, the Pirates did come back. Wheelersburg rallied to score four straight, and after several back and forth volleys between the two teams, the score was tied at 10.
“They have two very good hitters on their team, and we just had to overcome that,” Ruby said. “Our whole team really worked together, and that’s what really made the game.”
After the two teams traded points once more, Wheelersburg took a 14-13 lead after scoring on consecutive plays. Piketon then took a timeout, but the Pirates came out firing.
Wheelersburg went on a 7-3 run out of the break, and the Redstreaks took their final timeout of the first set trailing 21-16.
Piketon would score several more points in the set, but fell in defeat to start the match by a score of 25-20.
The Redstreaks had some defensive miscommunications throughout the first set, which continued to create problems for them in the next two sets.
In the second set, the Pirates jumped out to a quick 7-1 lead, scoring the first four points before Piketon could answer back.
Despite trailing early, the Redstreaks were able to fight their way back. Trailing just 8-4 now, the longest volley of the match ensued.
Through the midst of the mayhem, Ruby lost her shoe in the middle of the action.
“Ali stepped on the back of my shoe, and that was the longest volley ever,” Ruby said. “It was crazy. Mia [Darnell] I guess saw my shoe and kicked it out of the way. It was kind of hard, I slipped trying to get a ball, but I mean it’s okay.”
Piketon got the point on that volley, and the Redstreaks took a timeout several plays later trailing 12-8.
After the timeout concluded, Piketon would score three straight points to pull closer. However, Wheelersburg would break away with nine of the next 11 points.
Quickly, the Redstreaks were forced to use another timeout, now trailing 22-13.
The Pirates powered on to continue their pursuit of victory, and won 25-15 in the second set as Ali McQuay scored the final point.
McQuay finished the match with a solid day, capturing 13 kills, 14 digs and six service points.
It was the efforts of the entire team, though, that Wheelersburg was able to win the match in three sets with.
With Piketon leading 10-9, the Pirates knew the Redstreaks were going to give it all they had in what would eventually become their final set of the season.
“We just had to persevere through and get what we needed to get done,” senior Mia Darnell said about the third set and the challenges that came with it.
Perry also knew that Piketon was going to work Wheelersburg as hard as they could in the third set.
“I saw Piketon come out and they were swinging hard,” Perry said. “They were going for it, they had their backs against the wall and they gave it everything they had.”
Facing that aforementioned 10-9 deficit early on in the third set, the Pirates showed poise to grab a 15-10 lead on a 6-0 run. That scoring streak forced the Redstreaks to use a timeout.
When Piketon came back out on the court, they stormed back with an 8-4 run to pull within a point which forced Wheelersburg to use a timeout to talk about their slim 19-18 lead.
The Redstreaks came out looking to take control, and Piketon appeared that they just might when they took a 22-21 lead.
However, the Pirates continued to persevere, and scored the final four points of the match to win the third set 25-22.
It was a total team effort for Wheelersburg, where several Pirates shined in the stats column. Kaylee Darnell had seven kills, 11 digs, an ace and 14 service points. Adyson Rase added 10 kills and seven digs, and Mallory Bergan contributed a complete game of 12 kills, 11 digs, two blocks, an assist and an ace.
Mia Darnell had nine service points, and Abbie Kallner also engineered another fantastic assist job in the offense, racking up 44 assists on the day. Kallner also had five digs.
With the win, it’s on to regionals for the district champion Wheelersburg. The Pirates will take on Tuscarawas Valley in what will be a good test for the Wheelersburg volleyball team.
The Trojans of Tuscarawas Valley in Zoarville finished the season ranked #2 in the final Division III coach’s poll, receiving 283 votes. They currently boast a 26-0 record and haven’t lost a set all season.
Although it seems like a tall task on paper for the Pirates, anything can happen this time of year once the tournament starts to heat up.
Perry’s first year has been full of magic thus far, and Wheelersburg was also dominant throughout the regular season. Now back in regionals, the Pirates have big aspirations and their coach is preparing for a potential playoff run.
“I hope that we can go up there and get people to take notice of us,” Perry said. “I’ve never been there before as a coach … I’m going to go back and talk to some of my former coaches at Wheelersburg and find out what it’s all about and I guess I’ll just take it from there.”
A journey to state can continue on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 pm on the court of Logan High School in Logan for the Pirates or Trojans.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer