WHEELERSBURG — Point after point, set after set, and match after match.
The end game, of course, was Wheelersburg establishing an impressive state record for small potatoes —when compared to the main dish of advancing to the school’s first-ever state tournament in volleyball.
A year ago, the Lady Pirates, in fact, became just the second Scioto County club to ever reach the state volleyball tournament — coming only a year after Clay accomplished the feat in Division IV.
Now, the question begs, what will Wheelersburg do for an encore?
Despite the immense graduation losses of co-captains and all-Ohio hitters Alli McQuay (first team Division III) and Mallory Bergan (Honorable Mention Division III), the Lady Pirates return the remainder of their Final Four roster — featuring five seniors.
And, while last season’s Lady Pirates played with an all-business countenance and a laser-like approach, head coach Allen Perry portrayed the 2020 version as one performing with much more “energy and enthusiasm” — and a celebratory spirit.
That’s not at all to suggest the 2019 team wasn’t energized at every big point, but even the ones of minuscule importance will light up these particular Pirates.
Thus, their screams of celebration should drown out the gymnasium —of which noise will be drastically reduced this season due to the limitation on spectators in attendance.
“Last year’s team had a focus on accomplishing its goals. Just having the opportunity to set school history and be the first one from Wheelersburg to make it to the Final Four is an accomplishment that gives me chill bumps to this very day. This year’s team is energetic, they get more pumped up at even the smallest of things, and you can tell they have a really good time,” said Perry. “It’s a different kind of enthusiasm from last year’s group. Now they have goals, but they are a group that just likes to be entertained and laugh at one another and be more light-hearted.”
Four of the senior returnees — hitters Kylee Barney and Jaiden Missler, setter Lauren Jolly and libero Kaylee Darnell —spoke to The Portsmouth Daily Times about last year’s thrill ride to the state semifinals, and what this season should entail.
“Coming into every practice last year, we just worked our tails off to put ourselves where we needed to be,”explained Darnell. “Coming into this year, we can really rely on that experience.”
“If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep growing from every little thing that we learned,” added Jolly.
What everybody knew was that Wheelersburg was good.
What everybody learned was just how ridiculously dominant the Lady Pirates actually were.
For the second consecutive campaign, Wheelersburg went 22-0 in the regular season and steamrolled through the Southern Ohio Conference Division II —as along the way through the Division III regional semifinals they played 73 sets, and won all 73.
You heard that right.
In fact, and look it up at www.ohsaa.org, but that consecutive sets won streak in a single season stands as an official Ohio High School Athletic Association state record.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end —and so did the 73 straight sets won when Wheelersburg actually fell behind two sets to none against Hiland in the regional championship tilt.
However, losing those two sets was simply a small price to pay for the massive —and impressive —reward.
“Honestly, Coach Perry said that he was glad that we lost a set, because he didn’t want that pressure on us,” said Jolly. “He wanted that pressure off and not focus on the sets won streak. Just focus on winning the whole game.”
“It was a great accomplishment to win 73 sets in a row,” said Darnell. “But once we lost that first set, we had to look forward and move past it.”
That they did —finally and eventually.
In the third set, the Lady Pirates locked eyes and stared down a 24-23 deficit —meaning Hiland had match point, and the serve.
But, just when it appeared as if the Hawks had the Pirates officially eliminated, Wheelersburg somehow, someway found another gear — or maybe it was just a gear its never used.
Facing that final point, the six-foot two-inch middle hitter Barney hammered down a dynamite kill for the 24-24 tie — as the Hawks then had an attack error which gave Wheelersburg the lead…for good.
Bergan’s big kill capped off the comeback third game with Wheelersburg winning 26-24, and all of the sudden — the momentum completely switched.
The Orange and Black backed up that memorable third with a 25-20 triumph in the fourth set, before finally having its way with Hiland in the fifth and decisive game 15-5.
In eager unison, the senior foursome said the win over Hiland was — by far — the best moment, let alone victory, of the entire 27-1 fall.
The lone loss was a straight-sets sweep against Independence in the state semifinals, as Independence was making its third state tournament trip in four years.
But now last season is in the rear-view mirror, although another Final Four appearance is the next destination.
Darnell described the differences between this year and last, as Barney becomes an even greater target for teams to defend against —given McQuay and Bergan’s graduation.
Barney, like Bergan, was an Honorable Mention Division III all-Ohioan — as McQuay captured first-team all-state by being the District 14 Coaches Association (Division III) Player of the Year.
McQuay’s career ended at Wheelersburg with her amassing 791 kills in 315 sets played.
She also had at least 577 attacks over her final three seasons, including 633 as a junior.
Her hitting percentage for her career was .302, as she also collected 134 blocks including 40 solo —and served up 151 aces.
“It’s definitely a lot different and those two (McQuay and Bergan) brought a lot to the table. We have to fill that and do what we can with it,” said Darnell. “But I feel like everyone who has stepped in their shoes has done a good job of that.”
“We’ve been trying different lineups and seeing what works. I think we have it under control now to where we can do as good, if not even better,” said Jolly.
Perry said to watch for the fifth senior, 5-10 outside hitter Emily Boggs, and junior regular in the rotation last season, 5-9 middle blocker and hitter Ryleigh Meeker, to both experience breakout campaigns in place of the graduated co-captains.
The coach continued by explaining that “these girls have a mindset, they have goals in mind, and they got a taste of it last year”.
“These girls want a chance to get back up there (state tournament), and show them that we can play some volleyball,” said Perry. “I’m really excited for these five seniors this year.”
Indeed, what Wheelersburg wants for an encore is to bring back the coveted state title trophy.
“Our goal last year was to get to state, so we made it there. Now our goal this year is to win it,” said Darnell. “We’re Wheelersburg, so no one really likes us. We have that to feed off of and make us work harder. We’re just happy to have a season, they gave it to us, so we’re going to work with what we have.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved