SOUTH WEBSTER – Although the South Webster Lady Jeeps didn’t play their best volleyball on Thursday night, they still kept the “Faith” against visiting Minford.
The end result was another Southern Ohio Conference Division II victory.
That’s because, after losing the first set 27-25, the Lady Jeeps – spearheaded by sophomore hitter Faith Maloney – rallied in each of the final three games to defeat the Lady Falcons by identical 25-21 scores.
Trailing 1-0, South Webster fell behind by as much as three points in each of the final three games, including four in the second (8-4) and five in third (12-7).
In each instance, the Lady Jeeps reversed course, staking permanent leads of 15-14 in the first two sets – before going ahead for good 12-11 in the last.
The score stood tied as late as 17-17 in the second and final games, and 14-14 in the third.
South Webster went on to win the final three sets 25-21, as the young standout Maloney – who recorded six aces – served for five in a row in the fourth to give the Lady Jeeps a 22-17 game advantage.
With the victory, the Lady Jeeps raised their record to 6-2 – and 5-1 in the SOC II.
They trail only Wheelersburg, their only league loss, for the SOC Division II lead.
South Webster is a young yet highly-touted team, and some of those expected inconsistencies were on display against Minford.
In each of the first three games, the Lady Jeeps fell behind at the start – and trailed as late as 14-13 before making their move.
The Lady Jeeps didn’t get rattled, and responded each time to coach Darcee Claxon’s exhortation and instructions in each timeout.
“We keep having the same conversation in that we have to start each match with energy. When we talk, we play confident. When we play confident, we have energy. Those things are all connected to one another. When we miss one of those components, we sort of ‘shrink’ out there and don’t play well. We are still a young squad, but there are these expectations for these younger kids to perform. Sometimes that’s difficult, because they are still realizing who they are as athletes. That was our battle tonight. Luckily, we were able to figure it out and pull through,” said Claxon. “It wasn’t our best volleyball, but we were able to finish. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing I can ask for. We’ve been doing that for the past several matches. That is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.”
On Thursday, the Lady Jeeps finished each of the final three games on the winning side thanks largely to Maloney, who amassed a match-high 24 kills with four block-assists.
She notched nine kills in the overtime opening set, which the Falcons fended off 24-23 and 25-24 deficits, but spread the wealth with six in the second, five in the third and finally four in the last.
“I have to keep in mind sometimes that I am talking to a sophomore. I expect Faith to lead in every facet of the game. In the front row, in the back row, to the service line. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, but she comes up big,” said Claxon. “She didn’t disappoint. She was going against (Minford middle hitter Ally) Coriell, who is super tall, but Faith is super athletic and she hits the ball well and moves very well. And she works really hard.”
Mack Keller chipped in 11 kills, along with 10 by Bri Claxon and another nine by Gwen Messer.
Claxon set for 27 assists and Kendall Bender another 15, as libero Gracie Claxon led in digs with 19 – followed by Messer with 18 and Bri Claxon with 16.
But, it was South Webster’s successful serve-receive game which truly turned the tide.
The Falcons struggled with reception and passing throughout the final two games, amassing many hitting errors and combining for only 19 kills, including only eight in the third.
In the fourth, Maloney hit for five aces in a row, part of six straight service points after Minford managed its final lead at 17-15.
“We have one rotation that we really struggle in serve-receive, and it got away from us. And then we missed a couple of crucial serves when we needed to have them,” said Minford coach Rachael Stapleton. “We’re working on our toughness, but sometimes, it’s just hard to pull ourselves back up mentally and go back after the ball. We just have to toughen up and work through those situations.”
An attack error ended the second set, as a Messer kill in the third and a Keller kill in the fourth clinched those games – and ultimately the match.
Messer mustered three aces.
“Serve-receive is a difficult aspect of the game, and it comes back to a lot of confidence,” said Coach Claxon. “We practice it a lot, just understanding whose seam is whose on the floor and whose responsibility is which area of the floor. I think that is paying off for the most part, and tonight that made a big difference. When we don’t serve-receive, we don’t pass the ball well and can’t get the ball to our hitters.”
Minford middle hitter Ally Coriell – standing six-foot two-inches tall – claimed 19 kills to pace the Lady Falcons, including her three consecutive which gave Minford its 17-15 lead in the fourth.
She had seven kills in the opening game, including back-to-back spikes to erase the Lady Jeeps’ 25-24 match-point edge.
Maddie Slusher served up an ace to give the Lady Falcons the 1-0 advantage.
However, Minford was unable to maintain any of its early leads in the final three games.
The Lady Falcons fell to 4-5 with the loss, and 2-4 in the SOC II.
“We share the ball and we have a lot of girls that are playing well, but we just need to play with some consistency and more hunger,” said Stapleton. “Sometimes we don’t have that killer instinct or we share the ball too much. My girls play hard, they come out to play every night, they’ve got a good attitude, they are good teammates with one another and they never give up. You saw that again tonight.”
Claxon agreed that Minford made the Lady Jeeps “work for the win”.
“Everybody in the league this year is athletic. If you under-estimate anybody, you are going to pay for it,” she said.
The Lady Falcons return home, and return to SOC II action, against Valley on Tuesday.
South Webster, meanwhile, will attempt to keep pace with Wheelersburg as the Lady Jeeps travel to Portsmouth West on Tuesday for another league bout.
Despite her club’s youth, Claxon certainly understands what its talent can produce.
“I’m hard on them, but I am proud of them. I have really high expectations of them, but that’s only because I’ve seen what they are capable of,” she said. “I’ve seen really good volleyball from them, and that’s hopefully what we continue to aspire to play.”
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