JACKSON – Wednesday’s Division IV district semifinal contest was the first time the South Webster volleyball program had made such a trip to that stage since 2016, and while the Jeeps have their fair share of history at this stage of postseason play, it was a new stepping stone for Jeeps coach Darcee Claxon’s young team.
Not a single player on this year’s top seeded Jeeps in the Jackson #1 district saw varsity time on the 2016 team, a team that defeated Clay in the district finals. In fact, just one player on this year’s South Webster roster was even in high school at that time.
Despite their inexperience at that level of play, it was the Jeeps who put their nerves aside, ultimately settling into their potential and gameplan to the tune of a 3-0 victory (25-18, 25-17, 25-14) over defending district and regional champion Clay.
“As we went on, we relaxed,” Claxon said following the win. “You could see there were definitely nerves involved in those first couple of sets. We were just making errors that were unforced. I have to remind myself that these kids are young, they don’t have a lot of tournament experience. As they went on, I thought they really settled in. I really appreciated Mack (Keller), our senior, being vocal and being a leader for our girls.”
“I’m so proud of my team for what they’ve accomplished this year,” Clay coach Sarah Hammond said following the loss. “They have overcome so many obstacles, and also trying to fill the shoes of our team last year. Sometimes you can have an off night, tonight was definitely that for us. South Webster is a great team, we want to wish them luck on their tournament run.”
As Claxon mentioned, once the Jeeps settled in, it was their match to lose.
South Webster’s height, combined with their defensive ability at the net and in the back line, made Wednesday’s win that much more possible. Sophomore Faith Maloney, recently named the Division IV District 14 player of the year, was a big part of that.
“I thought that my hitters did well,” Claxon said. “Tense at the beginning which caused us to make some errors. Faith did a great job carrying us through that, I thought Mack (Keller) did a good job leading us, Bri (Claxon) did a great job late in that third set. Gwen (Messer) relaxed and started hitting the ball well, and Nat (Adkins) contributed nicely when we moved her in. We got kills from everyone in our offense. When you can get everyone involved on the offensive end, that’s a good sign.”
Leading South Webster offensively was Maloney who finished with 15 kills, four aces, six service points, and four blocks on the defensive end. Natalie Adkins followed Maloney’s effort on defense with three blocks of her own.
Mack Keller finished with a team high 11 service points with four kills and three digs.
Bri Claxon finished with a team high 16 digs, seven kills, a team high 17 assists, and eight service points. Kendall Bender followed Claxon with 10 assists and five digs.
Gwen Messer finished with six kills, six service points, and 10 digs. Liz Shupert also pitched in with three digs while Grace Claxon added 11 digs and five service points.
Clay graduates two seniors following Wednesday’s loss: Jaelyn Warnock and Hannah Phipps.
Both Warnock and Phipps were members of last year’s Clay team which became the first team from Scioto County across all divisions to make the volleyball Final Four.
In her final game, Warnock broke the Clay single season record for most kills in a season (453) with 16 kills against the Jeeps. As it stands, Warnock also leads all Division IV teams in the state of Ohio in kills (453).
Phipps finished tied with Warnock for the most digs by a Panther in Wednesday’s loss (13).
“We have some major rebuilding to do with the losses form last year, and then losing Jaelyn and Hannah this season,” Hammond said. “They both are great leaders on our team and we want to wish them the best on their future endeavors. As these younger classmen come along, they know they have a lot of work to do. But with being able to travel to the Final Four last year and having that dream in mind, I know they will set the bar high for themselves, as will I.”
South Webster advances to the district finals of the Jackson #1 district Saturday at 4 p.m. The Jeeps will take on Waterford, 3-0 winners over Eastern, Wednesday, for the right to advance to next week’s regional tournament at Bloom Carroll High School.
“We’ve got to relax and play,” Claxon said ahead of Saturday’s district final. “I haven’t seen Waterford yet. I think the best thing for our team though, is showing up and being the best version of ourselves. If we come and we play, I’d put my money on us every single time. But which coach wouldn’t?”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved