SOUTH WEBSTER — This time, Wheelersburg was at full strength —and highly motivated.
And, to suggest that the Pirates’ place atop a stacked Southern Ohio Conference Division II was at its end is indeed premature.
That’s because the Pirates, the defending division champion which had their lengthy league winning streak snapped by South Webster exactly a month ago, paid back the previously-undefeated Jeeps in Tuesday’s tilt of return —while also winning in four sets.
Wheelersburg won 25-18, 25-19, 17-25 and 25-22 — as South Webster won in four games in the Pirates’ third match of the year, which ended the Orange and Black’s SOC II win streak that dated back to 2015.
But now, both the Pirates and Jeeps sit tied atop the division —as Wheelersburg raised its record to 11-1 and 8-1, while South Webster falls for the first time to 14-1 and 10-1.
The coronavirus situation is impacting both of their league schedules, so stay tuned as to when and how either can clinch the division championship —although Northwest will have a serious say in that discussion as well.
Although the Pirates and Jeeps both swept the Mohawks in their first matchups, Northwest — with just those two league losses — will travel to Wheelersburg on Tuesday (Oct. 6) while venturing to South Webster for the regular-season finale on Oct. 15.
But the Pirates played themselves back into title contention, as a Jeep sweep —by all accounts —would have likely eliminated them.
It wasn’t always easy either, as Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry did admit that his Pirates committed some in-game errors that they must atone for.
However, that Pirate pride —and sheer will to simply not be denied — played a key role in the payback victory.
“We had a little extra motivation. We had to win tonight to stay in contention in the SOC II title race. I’m really proud of these girls. My girls don’t quit,” said Perry. “We still have to clean up a lot of mistakes that we were making. But as far as determination and that attitude of we’re not going to give up and we’re here for a purpose, that was there. We’ve lacked that at times this year. But tonight, they were determined. When my girls get determined, sometimes they are very hard to stop. I feel fortunate to get out of here with a win against a team like that.”
Perry praised the Jeeps with the utmost respect.
South Webster was seventh in last week’s Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches’ Association Division IV statewide poll, as the Jeeps had toppled some Southeast District strongholds already this campaign — including Wheelersburg and Alexander in Division III and Gallia Academy and Vinton County in Division II.
“That is a great team. They (Ohio High School Athletic Association) might be handing them some pins up there at the state this year in Division IV. They are well-rounded. They kept us out of our system the whole time in that third set,” said the coach. “That was their gameplan, but luckily we were able to bring our offense back and make some plays.”
Speaking of missing offense, Wheelersburg was without junior middle hitter Ryleigh Meeker and senior outside hitter Emily Boggs in their first affair with South Webster.
On Tuesday, Boggs blocked one ball and added an ace — but it was her dozen kills and 17 digs that couldn’t be overlooked or ignored.
“Emily Boggs is the difference-maker in a ballgame. She does everything right. She is so consistent. When she was injured, that really affected our game. Everybody was counting on her to get those balls she normally gets. When she is rolling, our team is rolling. She is just now finally getting healthy,” said Perry. “She had a good game tonight, she is getting her power back, she is getting her vertical back, which is what she was struggling with from that high-ankle sprain.”
Meeker, meanwhile, missed the first for family health matters — and her absence was felt as well.
Meeker muscled 11 kills and two blocks on Tuesday, and complemented and rotated well with senior middle hitter Kylee Barney.
Barney erupted for a match-high 18 kills and a block, as Kaylee Darnell dialed up another 12 kills.
“Ryleigh wasn’t at the first game due to family health reasons. We matched up well with having her back tonight. She came up big when we needed her,” said Perry.
Lauren Jolly set for 47 assists, and quarterbacked the Pirates’ offense with her deep and talented corps of “receivers”.
“How about Lauren Jolly running that offense tonight? She has a good problem to have with five good hitters to set up. She moved it around well and kept their middles moving,” said Perry.
In the opening two sets, the Pirates only trailed once at 1-0 in the first — and were only tied in that same game at 1-1 and 5-5.
Wheelersburg went wire-to-wire in set two, and although the Jeeps did get within four at 23-19, back-to-back game-ending kills by Boggs and Lyndsay Heimbach quickly gave the Pirates a 2-0 advantage.
South Webster coach Darcee Claxon said her young club displayed nerves, and allowed the Pirates to force them into errors in the opening two games.
“That happens when you play a really good team. I felt like we were super-tense and tight. Based off our warmup, I thought we were going to be relaxed and loose. But we seemed to play really tight and kind of panicked when things didn’t go our way. We’re just not a team that can play super-serious like that. We had a lot of balls that were mis-passed or not passed well because we weren’t talking or communicating and we didn’t trust our roles. The level of energy you bring to the game…you can’t play flat or timid. That’s exactly what we were doing,” said the coach. “A team as good as Wheelersburg will prey on a lack of confidence and really take the game to you and destroy you. We had moments defensively where we spazzed out and didn’t fulfill our roles or know what we were supposed to do. We gave them some unearned points here and there and against a good team, you can’t do that. We had a gameplan, but we didn’t really execute that 100-percent. It came back to being a little bit timid and concerned about having to keep balls in as opposed to being aggressive and taking the game to them.”
She also admitted they didn’t set up primary hitter Faith Maloney enough either.
At least early on.
The sophomore standout Maloney mustered a team-high 16 kills, added 11 digs and served up a half-dozen aces, as the Pirates did struggle with her serve —which often times barely clears the net and suddenly dies.
Darnell and libero Kiera Kennard collected 21 digs apiece to pace Wheelersburg’s defense.
“In the first couple of sets, we really didn’t feed Faith (Maloney) as much as we should have. She is our go-to hitter. When she is hitting well and we are feeding her the ball, it opens up for everybody else,” said Claxon.
The Jeeps never trailed in the third game, and maintained several six-point advantages — at 8-2, 9-3, 10-4, 13-7, 14-8, 17-11, 22-16 and 23-17.
A net violation and a Bri Claxon kill sliced the Jeeps’ deficit to a single game.
For the match, Bri Claxon and Bella Claxon supplemented Maloney with eight kills apiece, while senior Gwen Messer managed four.
Bella Claxon set for 19 assists as senior Kendall Bender amounted 16.
Graci Claxon had two assists, but did her damage on the defensive end as the team’s libero —leading with 19 digs followed by Bri Claxon with 17 and Bella Claxon with 13.
“In set three, we came out and took the game to them. In the fourth set, we battled with some great defensive saves, and Bri (Claxon) kept a lot of balls alive just getting touches. We did some good things here and there, but it just wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked to have seen,” said Darcee Claxon.
The fourth set featured a pair of early lead changes, with Wheelersburg never trailing from a 9-8 advantage on.
There were 11 ties in the game, including at 21-21, but the Pirates put it away with four of the final five points —including three kills.
Coach Claxon was proud of her Jeeps for battling back, and prefers to endure a defeat and lesson learned now as opposed to later.
“There’s a lot of lessons to learn when you fail. For us, we showed some grit and perseverance when we didn’t give up. You saw those first two sets, and it wasn’t exactly pretty on our part. I challenged the girls with that. The girls didn’t give up and didn’t quit,” she said. “I would rather them experience this and feel this pain now than in sectionals or districts or regionals. I want them to know what defeat feels like, but also understand with that what they have to do to get better. We aren’t always the most disciplined and we talk about it all the time, but until you have somebody exploit that, it really doesn’t give you a lot of motivation to fix it intrinsically. So now, we see it and we know it, and we can fix it and move forward. I wanted to win and the girls wanted to win tonight, but we’re not going to hang our heads about losing to somebody as good as Wheelersburg.”
And, a Wheelersburg volleyball unit that was fully healthy on Tuesday —and highly motivated.
“We had a really good gameplan put together by some fantastic assistant coaches and followed it,” said Perry. “We were able to execute when the time came.”
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