September 27th, 2018 was a day that the Clay Lady Panthers kept in the back of their minds throughout the rest of their regular season and throughout the postseason.
“We knew there was a reason for why we lost” said Clay senior libero Shaelyn Vassar, “We knew that we would meet them again in tournaments and that was there was a reason why we lost, and that was so that we could beat them this past Saturday.”
September 27th was the day that Clay lost to Notre Dame in four sets (23-25, 25-17, 23-25, 22-25) on their home court in the two teams’ second match-up of the year. In their first match of the year on September 4th, Clay won a tight match in straight sets (25-23, 26-24, 25-21). Needless to say, their home loss to their conference rival would stay in the back of their minds moving forward.
“They were super positive about it” said Clay head coach Sarah Hammond, “They felt like it happened for a reason. It’s really hard to beat a team three times and if we had to lose to them one time, then they were happy that it happened to be that second time and not on Saturday.”
Knowing what had to be done with a regional championship and a state semifinals appearance on the line, the Lady Panthers answered the call they had challenged themselves to make. Clay beat Notre Dame in the biggest volleyball match in Scioto County history on Saturday in the two teams’ third match-up of the season, once again in straight sets (26-24, 27-25, 26-24) to earn the school and county’s first regional championship and state semifinals berth.
Prior to this season, this group of Lady Panthers had not even reached the regional semifinals, let alone move into the position where they were able to claim the school’s first ever regional volleyball title.
“I feel like this year we really came together as a team” said senior hitter Jensen Warnock, “Putting everything with our passing, setting, and our hitting, we’re really unstoppable if we can do that.”
Prior to this season, Hammond was the team’s JV coach. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Hammond was given the opportunity to take over the team’s head role from former head coach Jill Tipton.
“It was kind of last moment” said Hammond, “I actually got hired at the beginning of the season to be the JV coach, as I was last year. The varsity coach ended up not being able to coach last minute. About June or July, I got the news, applied for the head job, and things kind of took off. We started our summer program, it’s just been a roller coaster ever since, but it’s been a great one.”
All while trying to adjust to the challenges of a new head coaching role, Hammond’s daughter, Shelby, was a member of the Wheelersburg Little League team that travelled to Portland, Ore. in August and won the Little League Softball World Series to become the first team, baseball or softball, to win the Little League World Series from Ohio.
And as if things weren’t hectic enough, Hammond is expecting another child in the near future.
“If this baby doesn’t come out an athlete, then I’m not sure because I think I’ve been screaming for the last six months” said Hammond, “It has been crazy. We’ve had a really blessed year for sure, I just want our girls to go up there and finish strong.”
With all of the great things that Clay has accomplished this season, there is still a lot on the line. On Thursday, the Lady Panthers will travel to Dayton on the campus of Wright State University where they will face Tiffin Calvert from Tiffin, Ohio in the Division IV state semifinals with a berth in the state championship game Saturday on the line.
Similar to Clay, Tiffin Calvert has a record of 24-3 and went on to win their regional championship vs. Leipsic in straight sets.
“We researched them on Sunday and Monday” said Hammond, “Obviously we’ve never seen them play before. Their record is very similar to ours and it seems like their height is similar to ours. It should be pretty evenly matched, and I think we have a pretty good chance. I think if we go up there and play our hardest and we play like we did the other night against Notre Dame, then I don’t think anyone can stop us as long as we’re hitting the ball.”
The Clay team is showing the same confidence in themselves as their coach is in them.
“We really have to communicate and serve tough” said Vassar, “We have to keep our serves in unlike we did this past weekend. Anytime we hit the ball, we’re successful. Our serve receive has to be really strong.”
“We’re going to make mistakes, but we can’t let those turn into many more,” said senior setter Lila Brown.
“As long as we stay positive, it’s in the bag for us. Get that bread” said senior Skylar Artis.
“If we just pass the ball and run our offense” said Hammond, “Our defense always kicks itself into gear. If we can just pick up the serving better than it was the other night, I think we’re unstoppable at so many levels. I think the possibilities are endless if we have a good mindset and play sharply like we did the other night.”
The Clay Lady Panthers will take on Tiffin Calvert at noon on Thursday at the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University in Dayton for a spot in the Division IV state championship game on Saturday.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT