SOUTH WEBSTER — As it turned out, the only difference on Monday night was that the Lady Jeeps had to go the complete distance.
But battled-test to the maximum already in 2020, the South Webster High School volleyball team continued to conquer its gauntlet of bigger schools —and continued to keep its perfect record intact.
Against visiting Vinton County, a current quality Division II Southeast District program, the Lady Jeeps did need the five full sets to capture the thrilling victory —but they did so for their baker’s dozen 13th triumph in as many tries.
South Webster won in five games, its first five-setter of the season, with see-saw scores of 25-17, 22-25, 28-26, 19-25 and finally 15-8.
Earlier on Monday, the Lady Jeeps jumped to seventh in the latest Division IV Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association statewide poll —partly because of their dominance of larger schools.
Nine days ago, South Webster won at Division II stronghold Gallia Academy in a straight-sets sweep, while also having defeated Division III powers Alexander and Wheelersburg — both in four sets as those were the only two games which the Jeeps dropped have all season.
Wheelersburg, in fact, had not lost a Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt since 2015 — before its early-season setback against South Webster.
The Lady Vikings entered Monday night at 10-2 — its only losses at Scioto Valley Conference powerhouse Adena and in five sets last Thursday at Nelsonville-York.
Vinton County competed in its third five-set affair this season — with the other being a win over Alexander.
And, it appeared as if the Vikings were on their way to taking a two-games-to-one lead —scoring four consecutive points and building a 20-16 safety in the marathon and nail-biting third game.
However, the Jeeps stormed back with five points of their own following a timeout and regained the advantage — one of the set’s 10 amazing lead changes, which also featured an unbelievable 19 ties.
That final deadlock was at 26-26, and forced by the Jeeps after the Vikings went ahead on a Sydney Smith ace.
Vinton County committed an attack error, though, and hit the ball long —giving the Jeeps the lead, and the serve, at 27-26.
Finally, after ALL of their first dozen leads in the game were by a single solitary point, leave it to freshman Bella Claxon to come up with the hard kill to put it away.
Despite slaying some Southeast District giants, SWHS coach Darcee Claxon said her squad had not been playing its best — and committed too many unforced errors again on Monday.
But, her Jeeps did demonstrate “that grit and perseverance to be able to battle back”.
“That was crucial in that third set to play that cleanly for that amount of time. It was a huge momentum shift for us,” said the coach. “Looking at our stats, all of our errors came mainly in sets two and four. But in set five, we played excellent.”
That the Jeeps did, erasing deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 by pulling away and scoring 13 of the set’s final 17 points —including the final six after Vinton County cut its deficit down to 9-8.
A Viking service error allowed for another South Webster point, and gave Graci Claxon the serve — of which the Jeeps reeled off the final five points.
Faith Maloney — the Jeeps’ junior anchor hitter — muscled back-to-back kills, Bri Claxon collected a kill, Maloney and Claxon combined for a picture-esque double block, and finally Graci Claxon served up an ace off the net for the match.
For those into counting, that’s three consecutive Jeep victories over the Vikings —as last year’s encounter in McArthur went four sets while two years ago it was part of a triangular tilt.
Coach Claxon did admit that South Webster was playing with pressure —being undefeated, at home, and against a good Division II team.
“Down 4-2, we took over and played clean from there. But that’s a sign of moving in the right direction. They were able to handle that pressure. They hunkered down, really dug in and relied on each other to play good volleyball. That’s what we needed from them in set five,” she said. “That grit and perseverance, it matters so much and that’s how you win big games and beat good teams.”
Coach Claxon got good volleyball from her Jeeps in sets one and three as well.
While Maloney managed a team-high 20 kills, she got plenty of assistance from Bella and Bri Claxon, who chipped in 16 and 11 kills respectively.
Gwen Messer added five, along with five aces and 10 defensive digs.
Bella Claxon, part of South Webster’s two-setter system, amassed 22 assists — as fellow setter and senior Kendall Bender amounted 24.
Bella Claxon’s complete all-around good match also included 16 digs, as libero Graci Claxon racked up 22 and Bri Claxon 14.
The Claxon sisters’ mother, and coach, commented on their contributions.
“Obviously, I’m going to be a lot harder on Bella because she is my kid, but she has played volleyball since she could walk. She has loved the game since she was little and you can tell that she has a high IQ and really understands the game and is very aware of her body. She just did a really good job for us tonight and I’m really proud of her,” said Coach Claxon. “And Graci’s defense was huge for us. Without that, we don’t win games. We tend to overlook that a lot of times, and I even do because she is my kid. Without Graci making those plays, Faith and Bella and Bri and Gwen don’t put the ball away.”
In taking the first set, the Jeeps reversed a 3-1 deficit by scoring three straight points — as Vinton County’s final edge among four total lead changes and five ties was at 6-5.
South Webster went ahead for good at 7-6, tallied three more points, and expanded the advantage to as much as 20-12 on Maloney’s only ace.
The Jeeps went on to win the set 25-17, getting the Lady Vikings to pile up on their errors — which was a prelude to the third and especially the fifth game.
“That’s what good teams do to each other. We have a big block, so now they have to think about going around that or going over that, and that does force errors. That was important for us tonight,” said Coach Claxon. “As we started to get the lead, there was a little bit of panic on their side. I attribute a lot of that to our defense and our tall and long front line of Faith (Maloney), Gwen (Messer), Rylee McGraw and Natalie Adkins.”
Smith paced all performers with a match-high 24 kills, as she also served up four aces.
But Smith, Vinton County’s middle hitter, got caught out of the fifth-game rotation —and could never get back in.
“We debated with what rotation we wanted to start out in, and we went with what we had done all night and stayed with it. But we got stuck there in that last rotation and couldn’t get Sydney back in. We weren’t in our best rotation and you could tell,” said VCHS coach Ashley Erwin. “We were struggling to put balls down and their last five points, we kind of laid down and let them hit the ball and stay in control. We didn’t attack that fifth set like we should have.”
Lacy Ward wound up with 11 kills, as Zoey Kiefer chipped in five.
Cameron Zinn set for 35 of the Vikings’ 37 assists, although their hitting percentage was only .124 with a dozen critical service errors.
Lacy Ward and Kerrigan Ward had three aces apiece, as Kiefer, Smith and Zinn each had two blocks.
“Too many unforced errors as we had 93 tonight. Too many points that we let them be in charge. Too many mistakes on attacks, not hitting spots we talked about, hitting too many balls out of bounds and too many balls into the net. Our serving killed us with 12 errors and only 10 aces. We beat ourselves in a couple of those sets,” added Erwin. “You can’t do that against a great team like South Webster and expect to win.”
And, being battle-tested again on Monday night, all the Jeeps have done throughout 13 bouts is in fact be victorious.
“These are all huge wins for us against really good competition and schools that are a lot bigger than we are,” said Coach Claxon. “I think that will just serve to really help us in the tournament run.”
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