LOGAN — Maximizing your potential is something that one should never deter himself or herself from doing.
And throughout the 2017 season, the Wheelersburg Pirates’ volleyball program did nothing but maximize their potential in multiple areas.
Despite losing eight seniors from a 2016 squad that went undefeated in SOC II conference play and went to a Division III District Final berth en route to finishing with a 20-5 overall mark, Wheelersburg actually improved on its overall standing in 2017 by emerging with yet another 14-0 mark in SOC II conference action and adding three victories over Coal Grove, North Adams, and Piketon to reach the Division III, Region 11 Semifinals.
However, there are teams out there that are so tough, that not even a game to end all games would slow said teams down.
And unfortunately, Wheelersburg’s season came to its close on Thursday evening against the buzzsaw that is Tuscarawas Valley, as the Lady Pirates fell to the Lady Knights by a 3-0 tally (25-5, 25-9, 25-6) in the second of two D-III, Region 11 Semifinal matches that were held at Logan High School in Logan on Thursday evening.
Still, the loss does nothing to deter or offset how proud first-year head coach Allen Perry was of his Wheelersburg unit — especially considering the odds that the Lady Pirates had to overcome with replacing eight critical parts of the Lady Pirates’ 2016 unit.
“I’m really, really proud of my team this year,” Perry said. “We had a great season. I told them, ‘Keep your heads up. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of.’ It’s not the way that wanted to go out, but nobody’s given Tuscarawas Valley a game all year. That is a good team. Great teams like that make you look silly at times. We were way off on our timing and things like that, but that’s on account of them being a great team.”
Still, Wheelersburg’s play down the stretch of the season, especially on the defensive side of the floor, showed the kind of strides that the Lady Pirates have made under Allen Perry’s direction in 2017.
Ellie Ruby, who finished her career with 1,255 digs, obtained 506 dives alone in her final season with the Wheelersburg volleyball program. Five additional hands, including Mallory Bergan (201), Alli McQuay (169), Mia Darnell (154), Abbie Kallner (140), and Kaylee Darnell (117), all eclipsed the 100-dig plateau, while Ruby (409), Bergan (241), Mia Darnell (156) and McQuay (132) all finished with more than 100 service receptions.
“We work on defense a lot, and the girls have come a long way,” Perry said. “(On Thursday), you had girls that were spiking shots as hard as they could, wherever they wanted to go with it. It’s hard to set up a defense because Tuscarawas Valley doesn’t have any tendencies. They don’t need to. They can just put the ball wherever they want.”
The growth and development of Wheelersburg’s younger talent, too, helped the Lady Pirates make a run that was unexpected by many. Aided by 622 assists by Abbie Kallner — who eclipsed the 1,000-assist barrier and will be back next season — Bergan and McQuay, both sophomores, took primary ownership of the frontline efforts.
McQuay notched a team-high 267 kills on a .292 attack percentage, while Bergan added 231 spikes on a .357 attack percentage. Kaylee Darnell, Adyson Rase, and Emily Boggs, who all received additional playing time as the year went on, complimented Bergan and McQuay well by combining for 241 kills while notching attack percentages of at least .220 or higher. All five players, along with Kallner, will be back next year to lead a formidable frontline that can also serve quite well, with Boggs, Darnell, Kallner, and McQuay all collecting serving percentages of at least 95.1 or better.
And with a middle school program that went a combined 37-3 between its seventh and eighth grade units in 2017, the deck looks stacked for years to come.
“I don’t give enough credit to my middle school programs,” Perry said. “You can’t come in and be a successful head coach at the varsity level if you don’t have the people that can develop these girls all the way through. You have to have those feeder programs, and we’ve got one in place with the job that the coaches are doing at that level. I’m excited about the future.”
For now, however, the celebration centers around the two seniors that got Wheelersburg to this point — Mia Darnell and Ruby. The latter added 124 aces for her career in addition to her massive dig total while the former posted 29 aces and a strong 95.7 percent serving mark in 2017 as a cerebral and reliable hand who served as the perfect compliment to Ruby.
“I thank Ellie and Mia for accepting me as their coach,” Perry said. “That set the tone for the younger girls to come in and allow me to not only install my system, but bring in the people that I thought would make us the most successful. I’m really proud of them, and I’m really going to miss them. They put so much effort into, and sacrificed a lot for this team to be successful.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT