WAVERLY — For those into counting, let’s consider three numbers when discussing the Wheelersburg High School volleyball team for 2019.
First, there is the incredible — and historic — 70 sets now played by the Lady Pirates, with ALL 70 sets won.
Second, the Lady Pirates have now played 25 opponents — and have swept all 25.
But, most importantly and if you ask the Lady Pirates themselves — the number they really care about now is “16”, as in the Division III “Sweet 16” of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
Wheelersburg, only building upon its historic season on Saturday night at Waverly High School, swept Southeastern 25-23, 25-16 and 25-20 to capture its third consecutive Southeast District Division III championship.
With the victory, the Lady Pirates remained undefeated at 25-0 — and made it a perfect 9-for-9 for games won in the postseason, part of a massive and impressive 70-for-70 in sets played for the entire year.
But the main goal, said Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry, has never been about going undefeated or even losing a set.
It’s about advancing as far as possible, and keeping playing on Halloween — and into November.
“We’re happy to be here, and we’re happy to be going back to regionals one more time,” said the coach. “Hopefully, we will make something of it.”
Wheelersburg will now face Adena in Thursday night’s regional semifinals at Logan High School, as Adena defeated fellow Scioto Valley Conference rival Zane Trace in four sets in another Saturday district championship tilt at Waverly.
That fourth and final game in which the Warriors won went a dramatic overtime — with Adena winning by an unbelievable 35-33 to clinch the district title.
Against Southeastern (13-13), one of five SVC schools playing for three Division III Southeast District crowns, the Lady Pirates came as close to dropping a set as they have all season.
The Panthers pushed Wheelersburg — the Southern Ohio Conference Division II champion and only non-SVC club competing in the district finals — all the way to a 23-23 tie in the opening game, before the ‘Burg got back-to-back kills by junior middle hitter Kylee Barney to win the set.
Wheelersburg never trailed in the second game, although the Panthers pressed the power button again, rallying from a 9-3 deficit and scoring 10 of the next 15 points to get within 14-13.
But back came the Pirates to score 11 of the final 14, and win 25-16 to get within the final set of another district championship.
However, like the opening game, winning the closer wasn’t easy either.
Southeastern, although by no more than three points once and two points seven times including at 19-17, staked the lead for the majority of the set.
But Wheelersburg went off for five straight points and eight of the final nine for the championship, including senior co-captain Mallory Bergan’s kill to clinch it.
The only Panther point of those final nine was a Lyndsey Skeens kill that made it 22-20 — as a Barney kill, a net violation and finally Bergen’s spike secured straight-set 70 for the Lady Pirates.
“We knew this was going to be a dogfight tonight. They were fifth-place in the SVC, but fifth-place in the SVC is totally different than in most leagues. We knew whatever seed they were, they were going to be tough,” said Perry. “They had high-power offense with (Southeastern’s) Skylar Hice.”
Hice, a senior co-captain, had 13 of the Panthers’ 30 kills, as Skeens killed five times.
However, it was Skeens serving up four consecutive aces at the outset of the match that had the Lady Pirates and their fans’ attention.
Perry said some of the Lady Pirates’ opening-set issues involved communication, but also — because of the four-set length of the first two matches on Saturday — Wheelersburg was sitting around watching for four hours instead of actually playing.
The Lady Pirates and Panthers finally got underway at 8:45 p.m.
“We acted like we had been sitting around here for five hours. It was a long leadup to this game. But I know our group of girls is not going to stop or quit or give up. Even though they started out for four aces, we weren’t about to panic. We just fought our way back into it and we were fortunate enough to take that set,” said Perry.
And fight back the Orange and Black did.
One of Barney’s match-high 15 kills kept the Pirates within three at 14-11, but a service error combined with back-to-back attack errors had Southeastern ahead at 17-11.
But Wheelersburg reeled off seven straight points to take its initial lead of the set, served up by Kaylee Darnell’s second ace to push the Pirates in front at 18-17.
A service error and a Hice kill gave Southeastern the lead again — as the set stood tied at 17-17, 18-18, 19-19, 20-20 and 21-21 before back-to-back Barney kills made it 23-21 in favor of the Pirates.
Another Panther kill and Pirate net violation forged the final tie at 23-23, but Barney — and her six-foot two-inch height and length — landed the final two kills of the set for the 1-0 Wheelersburg lead.
While Skeens stood at 6-1, Southeastern struggled against Barney — who often had easy and effort-less kills.
“On top of her length and her height, Kylee has a high point of contact, too. She is a special kind of player that you don’t get very often in your program and coaching career. We’re glad she is on our side and she is getting better everyday,” said Perry.
A Barney block, one of her match-high seven, and another kill started the Pirates’ second-set spree — as she netted two more kills to make it 13-8 and 14-10 before her regular rotation exit.
An attack error combined with back-to-back Skeens kills made it 14-13, but the Pirates put together four consecutive points and seven out of the next eight — on two kills apiece by Ryleigh Meeker and Emily Boggs and one apiece by Bergan and Alli McQuay.
Bergan served up an ace to make it 17-13, as another Barney block, a Boggs service point and attack error ended the set.
“That second set, that was our team playing our ‘A’ game and to our potential,” said Perry. “We were on offense, we were confident, and that’s what we’re capable of. I was very pleased with that set.”
The Lady Pirates dominated at blocking, as besides Barney’s seven, Bergan finished with four — as Meeker managed three and McQuay two.
Both Meeker and McQuay collected eight kills apiece as setter Lauren Jolly — who amassed 34 assists — also had two blocks.
Southeastern served several times to Jolly, but she returned fire for 18 digs, as McQuay finished with 14 and Darnell 13.
The third set then featured five lead changes — and ties of 3-3, 4-4, 8-8, 9-9, 12-12, 13-13, 14-14, 15-15 and finally 19-19.
A Meeker kill and a Panther hitting error allowed for that final tie, as Barney — back in the rotation — book-ended Bergan’s championship kill with three consecutive kills of her own.
“In the third set, Southeastern played with desperation, and they weren’t letting anything drop. We were bringing some high-powered offense, but they were digging everything up. But when we get behind like that, I give our girls two goals: tie the game back up and let’s win the next game,” said Perry. “Once we tie it back up, it’s a new game. If we can tie the game back up, give us a new game, win the next game.”
The Lady Pirates did just that trailing 19-17, winning all of the remaining points sans one.
As a result, their 70-set winning streak stays intact — as well as their winning 25-match roll.
But, the most important number now for the Lady Pirates — playing in the “Sweet 16” against Adena.
That contest will immediately follow Thursday’s first tilt — between Berlin Hiland and Huntington at 6 p.m.
Wheelersburg fans should expect about a 7:30 p.m. first serve — and also “a great defensive team” with the Lady Warriors.
“They (Warriors) play great defense,” said Perry. “I think we will struggle to put some points down on them. If it turns into a defensive game, then we’re in trouble. We have to not only attack, but we have to be able to score the points. They dig everything up and are so scrappy, so we’re going to have to be resilient on every single volley. It’s a good matchup, and we’re definitely going to have to play well to win.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved