McARTHUR – Apparently, the young South Webster Lady Jeeps didn’t want to be another ordinary footnote to the Vinton County Vikings’ historic volleyball season.
That’s because the Jeeps – in rather dominating fashion from start to finish and in all phases on Monday night – handled the host Vikings 25-20, 22-25, 25-16 and 25-21 in a non-league match between two top seeds in the upcoming OHSAA tournaments.
In fact, you can even argue that South Webster – with nine ties and six lead changes in the second set – should have won in three games.
With the victory, the Jeeps – with one senior, three juniors, four sophomores and one freshman – raised their record to 14-5.
They also handed the like-young Vikings – with eight sophomores and three seniors including standout middle hitter Maylea Huff – only their second setback of the entire campaign.
Vinton County is now 18-2, as Waverly – also a member of the Southern Ohio Conference Division II and with whom the Lady Jeeps split that season series with – was the only other team to take down the Vikings.
That match too went to four games, but all four of those were hotly-contested, with a pair extended past the regulation 25 points.
The Vikings, with the exception of a second-set rally from a three-point deficit three times including as late as 20-17, got beyond 21 only once.
Both clubs will be number-one seeds in their sectionals, with South Webster in Division IV and Vinton County in Division II – but only the Jeeps actually looked the entire part on Monday.
“This is absolutely a big win for us,” said South Webster coach Darcee Claxon. “In non-league games like this, you never know how you are going to react. I didn’t feel like there was any pressure for our girls. We’re hoping that as we enter tournament season next week, we’re finally gelling and working out those kinks that we saw early in the season. I knew tonight was going to be a great opportunity to compete, for our girls to be challenged and to play a good team. I was really happy that we did just that and continued to put pressure on them.”
The Jeeps played the role of aggressor, especially Faith Maloney, who easily amassed a match-high 19 kills – and had the Vikings’ solid front line off balance.
Mack Keller chipped in 10 kills, Gwen Messer managed six and Bri Claxon collected four, as Maloney, Keller and Claxon all had four block-assists apiece.
Five Jeeps amounted at least eight digs apiece, as libero Gracie Claxon came up with 24 – followed by Bri Claxon with 16, Kendall Bender with 11, Maloney with 10 and Messer with eight.
While Maloney might have the most eye-popping of offensive statistics, and rightfully so, the Jeeps’ success – as was the case on Monday – is based off sharing the wealth.
South Webster attacked the net, excelled in its passing game, handled free balls well, and went toe-to-toe with the Vikings on serve-receive.
“Faith (Maloney) did a great job. She always does, she is just a great athlete. She works hard and has a great attitude, and anybody would want her. Then Mack Keller plays opposite of her and she was excellent tonight, and my other hitters came up big and did what I needed them to do,” said Coach Claxon. “The great thing for us is it’s not about the individual or who gets the credit. We’re here to win and be successful and we have key players and we have role players. That’s what makes us really good. We all understand what we’re doing and we’re there for the good of the team, not our own personal benefit or glory.”
Bri Claxon set for 19 assists and Bender another 11, as the Jeeps didn’t back down – and instead racked up more kills.
In the third game, South Webster went ahead 7-6, and broke a 9-9 tie by outscoring Vinton County 16-7 the rest of the way.
One of Messer’s pair of aces extended the Jeeps’ advantage to 24-13 – their largest in any game.
Huff had a pair of aces of her own, but her third straight serve sailed into the net, giving South Webster a 2-1 lead.
“Vinton County is a team that you can’t give momentum to. I don’t care if we are ahead by 12 or 13 points. If you let them back in the game, they are dangerous,” said Coach Claxon. “We just had that conversation about consistency, playing with a purpose and making sure we didn’t let up.”
The Jeeps took a 2-1 lead in game four on a Maloney block, and never trailed again in building up as large as a 13-6 cushion.
Vinton County charged back by reversing that with a 13-6 outscoring of its own, but kills by Claxon and Messer – followed by a Gracie Claxon ace – put the Jeeps back in front for good.
Maloney managed a kill sandwiched between a pair of kills by the Lady Vikings’ Lacy Ward, but then a service error and attack error on Vinton County ended the match with South Webster winning 25-21.
By the end of the match, the Lady Jeeps had settled in – and were passing with precision, setting up mainly Maloney kills.
“If we can’t pass, then Faith (Maloney) or Mack (Keller) or Bri (Claxon) doesn’t hit,” said Coach Claxon. “Once we settled down and relaxed a little bit, our passing got much better. That makes such a difference. And it’s not about just playing with the lead in each game, it’s about being able to finish. To play calm enough and with enough composure to win the match.”
Indeed, the Jeeps’ finish was better than their start – despite opening with game-one leads as large as 4-1, 5-2 and 6-3.
The Vikings got a sideout on a service error, then Sydney Smith served up back-to-back aces for Vinton County, giving it the 7-6 lead that soon ballooned to 15-9 on a Ward ace off the net.
But from there, the Jeeps reversed course – and suddenly outscored the Vikings 16-5 the remainder of the game.
A Zoey Kiefer block for the hosts had them ahead at 19-17, but a service error, a Bri Claxon kill, a Maloney ace, an attack error long and a ball-handling error allowed South Webster to seize a 22-19 lead.
Ward, with one of her dozen kills, got the Lady Vikings to within two – but the Jeeps scored the final three points on a net violation, a Gracie Claxon ace and finally a Keller kill.
“We have dug holes all year long, and I don’t know why we do. But, we are able to respond. Volleyball is a game of momentum, but my girls have figured out that if they just settle in and stay calm, they can work back out of those deficits,” said Coach Claxon. “That’s exactly what they did tonight.”
Maloney and Gracie Claxon served up three aces apiece, while Ward with seven and Smith with five paced the Vikings’ “super-aggressive” service.
Smith tied Ward with 12 kills, as Huff had five and Kiefer four.
Sophomore setter Cameron Zinn – the daughter of former Shawnee State University standout Erica Hayes-Zinn – set for 29 assists.
Kerrigan Ward, the libero, recorded 25 digs – while Huff added 18, Smith 13 and Lacy Ward 10.
Coach Claxon said Monday’s win was the culmination of a regular season of dramatic improvement, and that she knew her Jeeps were capable of quite the victory.
South Webster – with playing up in schedule in the SOC II with the likes of Division II Waverly and Division III squads Wheelersburg, Minford, Northwest, Oak Hill and Valley – will be a favorite for a Division IV district championship at Jackson.
Monday’s triumph over a Division II team, and avoiding being a mere footnote in Vinton County’s record-setting season, only adds to the Jeeps’ excitement.
“We’ve seen huge progression from the beginning of the season until now. We’ve stayed the course, we’ve been consistently working on certain skills, and I feel like the payoff is coming. We feel we have a bright future ahead of us for our program,” said the coach. “I’ve known all season that we can compete in a game like this, and this should give our girls confidence that they can play with anybody. I’m really proud of my kids. I’m hard on them, I scream at them from the sidelines sometimes, but I know their potential and what they are capable of. They are some of the best kids I’ve coached and it’s really exciting to see that.”
The Jeeps are scheduled to conclude their regular and SOC II seasons with Portsmouth West on Tuesday and at Northwest on Thursday.
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