Saturday was nothing short of a historic day in the history of volleyball in Scioto County as the Clay Lady Panthers were able to take a straight set victory over the Notre Dame Lady Titans (26-24, 27-25, 26-24) to win the regional championship and advance to the state semifinals next Thursday in Dayton on the campus of Wright State University. Clay is the first team ever from Scioto County to win a regional championship in volleyball and is also the first team from Scioto County to advance to the volleyball state semifinals.
“It feels amazing” said Clay head coach Sarah Hammond following her team’s straight set victory over Notre Dame Saturday afternoon in Lancaster, “There’s no other words to describe it. I think anyone that gets to this point in their tournament run, let alone it being there first time in school history, makes it that much more special. To get them in three sets, to execute everything that we practiced so hard on, the girls just came out fighting and just never let up. To win in three straight sets was just awesome.”
“It’s definitely something I never expected coming into this year” said Clay senior and district player of the year Jensen Warnock, “We wanted to go far but we never expected this. We just realized last game that if we pass the ball, serve the ball, and if we put the ball down, we can beat anyone that we want to beat. It’s just an incredible feeling that we’ve worked our whole lives since like fourth grade to get to this point.”
“It’s one of the best feelings” said fellow senior Delanie Gilliland, “We’ve worked so hard in practices and in our last few seasons we haven’t gotten past districts. I just feel like we’re on a roll and it’s literally the best feeling.”
“It feels amazing” said senior hitter Taylor Lewis who had a team high three solo blocks at the net in the Lady Panthers regional championship win over Notre Dame, “Everything from freshman year until now has made us better and work hard for this. This has been our dream since our eighth grade year.”
Senior setter Lila Brown remarked at just how fulfilling this moment was for her and her teammates. “We were managers in fourth, fifth and sixth grades. This has been our whole lives, basically.”
Notre Dame head coach Kelsey Glockner wished her team had done a better job of controlling momentum in their loss to Clay on Saturday. “Clay came out swinging, they came out and executed really well, they completely earned it. During times of momentum and times of things going well for us, we weren’t able to keep that momentum. It’s something we’re usually better at doing, so that was just kind of frustrating. It was just a big stage, it was an emotional game. It’s a different level when it’s your league rival and everything else on the table. We just didn’t do the best job of balancing the emotional part with the physical part.”
With each set having to go to extra volleys thanks to the win by two rule in sets one through four, Clay/Notre Dame Part III was extremely well played as neither team was able to get a large lead in any of the three sets.
In the first set, the lead changed sides multiple times before the Lady Panthers were able to get a kill from Taylor Lewis and Notre Dame junior setter Cassie Schaefer was called for a setting error, giving Clay the 26-24 first set victory to take a 1-0 match lead over the Lady Titans.
The second set nearly mimicked that of the first. Clay was able to rally after trailing 17-14 to take a 23-21 lead and force Glockner to use a timeout to try and rally her team. That timeout worked as the Lady Titans were able to score four out of the next five points to take a 25-24 second set lead which forced Hammond to use a timeout. But just as championship teams are prone to do, the Lady Panthers responded as Lewis was able to get a huge block and Jensen Warnock was able to get a kill to give Clay the second set win 27-25 to take a 2-0 match lead with a berth in the state semifinals on the line.
Clay trailed 19-17 in the latter stages of the third set before being able to tie things up at 20-20 with just five set points standing between them and the Division IV Final Four. Notre Dame hung tough but was forced to call a timeout trailing 24-23 with their backs against the wall in the third set. Three set points later and Clay was able to win the third set 26-24 and win the match 3-0 to claim the school’s first ever volleyball regional championship.
Leading the way statistically for the Lady Panthers was Warnock and Delanie Gilliland with 18 and 14 kills respectively. Seniors Lila Brown and Skylar Artis led Clay with two aces apiece. Lewis had a team high three solo blocks while sophomore Jaelyn Warnock had a team high 12 digs. Senior setter Lila Brown had a team high 48 assists and also led Clay in service points with 10. Senior libero Shaelyn Vassar had a team high 35 service receptions to cap off the statistical leaders from Clay’s regional championship match.
Notre Dame returns most of their defense from this year’s regional final team but will have some big shoes to fill with replacing two hitters in seniors Katie Dettwiller and Clara Hash, as well as senior role player Courtney Blau.
“I couldn’t say enough about those three as seniors, let alone every kid in this program for the bond they have, they chemistry they have” said Glockner when reflecting on her seniors’ careers and her team this season, “I don’t fight the battles of players not being coachable, or attitude. They come in and they work so hard and they buy into whatever I tell them to do. What those three seniors have done for the program is incredible. Every year we talk about seniors setting a new bar, seniors leave something in the program. Those three leave a very special area of team, selflessness, chemistry. I couldn’t say enough about how they’re not worried about themselves, they’re just worried about us winning the game. And that’s something I think that they will leave, and those other kids will carry on.”
With the school’s first regional volleyball championship also comes Clay’s first volleyball state semifinal appearance next Thursday at noon on the campus of Wright State University in Dayton when the Lady Panthers will take on the Tiffin Calvert Senecas from Tiffin, Ohio.
“I’ve been to watch the state tournament once” said Hammond, “But I don’t think any of the girls’ have ever been, so it’ll be a new experience for everyone and it should be a fun time.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT