WHEELERSBURG – Wheelersburg’s Division III regional title won in a dramatic comeback over Berlin Hiland Saturday was a stepping stone for the Pirates and head coach Allen Perry.
While the Pirates perfect 22-0 regular season is an extraordinary achievement by all standards, it had been done before.
In 2018, Wheelersburg also achieved a perfect regular season mark before falling in the regional semifinals to Tuscarawas Valley in three sets for the second straight year.
Saturday’s regional championship was a first for the state-bound Pirates, making the moment(s) after that much sweeter.
“I’m not sure if it has set in yet or not,” Perry said of Saturday’s come back win. “I knew we had the talent, I knew we had the work ethic. It’s just about being able to execute down the stretch. I’ve said all year long that when they’re focused and playing their game, we’re a really good team. Once we had their timing down and we were able to execute our game, then they were able to finish the game.”
In fact, it was just the second regional championship for Scioto County’s twelve high schools, the first coming a year ago when Clay defeated rival Notre Dame in a five-set thriller.
Two losses at the regional semifinal stage prompted Perry and the Pirates to figure out a way to overcome their shortcomings of higher goals. Saturday’s regional final win wasn’t just three months in the making, it’s a goal that’s been aspired for for three years.
“We take those Tusky Valley losses, and we come back and we were already figuring out what we needed to work on,” Perry said. “Where are we off, and where does this program need to go? Luckily we’ve been able to keep this nucleus of kids together for the last three years, instill some of the things we thought we needed to improve at. We thought we had a good chance Saturday, but it still comes down to execution. Thankfully, we were able to do that.”
Now, the still perfect Pirates (27-0) must face a new challenge – fourth ranked Independence.
The Blue Devils of Independence, a suberb 12 miles south of Cleveland, are making their third straight trip to the Division III state tournament at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
A year ago, Independence fell in the state championship game to Versailles in three sets in their bid for a state title. Two years ago, it was a three set loss to Coldwater in the state semifinals which ended the Blue Devils season.
For the Pirates to continue their march toward the program’s first state championship, they’ll have to knock off a team led by first team all-Ohio senior libero Maddy Bilinovic who is capable of playing at the highest level of volleyball in their division.
“We’re confident as a team, but we’re definitely not over confident,” Perry said. “That’s something you want to keep in the back of your mind, because if you’re over confident then you’re complacent. We don’t instill complacency, we always strive to be at the next level. We have the highest respect for Independence. I work at the state tournament every year with the coaches association so I’ve seen how well they play and how well they’re coached. It’s a great program and it’s an honor to be able to play against them, that’s for sure.”
Luckily for Perry, his team has also proven their ability to do play at the highest level, even when facing near elimination.
With first team all-Ohio middle hitter Alli McQuay and honorable mention all-Ohio hitters Kylee Barney and Mallory Bergan leading the way, the Pirates have proven they too can compete with the best the state of Ohio have to offer.
“We just have to go in there playing our game and see where that takes us,” Perry said. “If things aren’t working right, then we need to try and make some adjustments. We’re going to give it our all and see how it plays out.”
Wheelersburg and Independence will play their Division III state semifinal beginning at 12 p.m. Thursday, November 7th at Wright State University’s Nutter Center with a spot in Saturday’s state championship game on the line.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved