WHEELERSBURG — You can say that the Pirates dug deep, early, and most importantly often on Tuesday for their latest volleyball victory.
That’s because Wheelersburg’s defensive skills, and subsequently its digging stats, were on full display against the visiting Northwest Mohawks — as the Pirates posted their second sweep of Northwest for this Southern Ohio Conference Division II and regular-season campaign.
While the scores were indeed close and the match played as such, and the Mohawks made Wheelersburg work for each set victory, the Pirates still swept Northwest with a 25-18, 25-21 and 25-22 triumph to remain tied atop the SOC II with South Webster.
With the win, the Pirates — ranked ninth in the latest release of the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association statewide poll — raised their stellar record to 14-1, and 9-1 in the SOC II.
They also distanced themselves from the Mohawks in the league race, as Northwest is now 10-3 in the division —part of 15-3 overall.
While Wheelersburg still has six SOC matches remaining, Northwest has just three —and will need a victory over co-leader South Webster combined with multiple upset losses by the Pirates.
That isn’t likely, given what Wheelersburg has done —and will continue to do.
On Tuesday, while six-foot two-inch senior middle hitter Kylee Barney’s block party took place, the Pirates’ primary key was how well they chased down and dug up Northwest volleys.
Whether it was hard kill attempts, or long-range roll shots, Wheelersburg was everywhere on its side of the net — and very few balls hit the floor.
The Pirates stuffed the stat sheet with digs, and most times turned those into points.
Lyndsay Heimbach had a match-high 15 digs, while Kaylee Darnell added 11 and setter Lauren Jolly chipped in 10 — along with her 24 assists.
Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry especially praised the play of libero Kiera Kennard, and her diving and stomach-sliding for free balls all the way to the end line.
“Did you see some of those balls they ran down? Just attribute that to our athleticism. Then whenever we were tracking balls down, the other girls were covering for each other,” said Perry. “The girls were working well together as a unit tonight. Kylee Barney making some sets and everything else.”
But Barney, of course, in addition to her 10 kills which tied her with teammate and fellow middle hitter Ryleigh Meeker, reached a milestone by extending upon her school’s blocks record.
She had a pair of blocks, but her first in the first game to make it 12-9 Wheelersburg was her 250th for her decorated career.
“What an accomplishment that is. Those blocks sometimes get overlooked with 1,000 assists and 1,000 digs and stats like that. That’s an impressive number that she has put up. She has natural ability besides her height and length,” said Perry. “I wouldn’t want to play against her.”
Most don’t, as Barney —being so long — is a matchup nightmare at the net.
Meeker had a block as well.
Like the first meeting, the Pirates did force the Mohawks into errors —although Northwest coach Elizabeth Lewis also acknowledged Wheelersburg’s defense.
“I thought our girls fought hard. There are some unforced errors that I would like to have back, and credits to their defense for they did chase down a lot. There’s just little things I would change with our execution,” she said. “Both of their middle hitters hit really well, and they can hit from several different areas on the court, which makes it harder for the defense.”
All three sets were hotly-contested —with four lead changes and six ties in the first, four lead changes and eight ties in the second, and three lead changes and 10 ties in the last.
The Pirates pulled away from a 19-17 advantage in the opener by scoring six of the final seven points, then broke a 19-19 deadlock in the second by scoring six of the final eight.
Wheelersburg’s largest lead in the first game was the 25-18 final, as three four-point cushions — 23-19, 24-20 and 25-21 (final score)— were the largest in the second.
In the third set, the Pirates broke the 10th and final tie at 16-16 with five points in a row, but a pair of Haidyn Wamsley kills for the Mohawks made it 24-22 —and Northwest had the serve.
But Barney’s 10th kill into the center of the Mohawks’ defense ended it.
Perry pointed to the Pirates’ penchant for playing in big-time matches —whether in the regular season or especially the postseason.
After all, they did completely rally from a two-sets-to-none deficit — and stared down match point —against Hiland in last season’s regional championship bout.
“I still think that goes back to experience. These girls keep calm to where we don’t panic or tighten up. They become more hyper-focused and are able to execute,” said Perry. “That experience we have is hard to come by, and it makes such a difference in close sets and close matches.”
Jaiden Missler — a Pirate senior along with Barney, Jolly, Darnell and Emily Boggs —mustered a dozen service points plus four aces.
Wamsley was, once again, Northwest’s leader —amassing a match-high 16 kills, four blocks, seven serve-receptions, an ace and three digs.
Reagan Lewis set for 25 assists —and added a dig, an ace, a block and a kill.
Other top hitters included Valerie Copas with four kills, Audrey Knittel with three and Ava Jenkins with two — as Copas had 11 service receptions and a half-dozen digs.
Jenkins (seven digs), libero Lydia Emmons (five digs) and Terah Webb (four digs) were the other top defenders, while Emmons with seven and Webb with six were the other leaders in serve-receive.
Knittel and Emmons each served for an ace.
While West is at home on Thursday, Northwest won’t mind another opportunity with Wheelersburg —which the Mohawks may see say in the Division III district rounds.
Perry prefers different, of course, as three meetings in the same season creates too much familiarity.
“They (Mohawks) played with a lot of heart tonight. And any team that plays with a lot of heart and a lot of passion is going to be tough to put away. They were very disciplined, played really good defense, and I think they are a much-improved team from the first match we had with them. They were digging up some things we were putting down. You can tell they have been working hard,” he said. “We could very well see them again in the tournament. They are going to be, I think, maybe a little underrated and even under-seeded (in Division III tournament), and I don’t think I want to play them again. It’s hard to beat a good team three times.”
Lewis also mentioned the Mohawks’ matchup at South Webster on Oct. 15, which will have an impact on the SOC II championship.
“I would obviously love to have another chance at them (Pirates), and we may get them in tournament. And I think if we correct some of the mistakes that we made today, but play with the heart and effort that we did today, I think we will be well set for South Webster,” she said.
Perry and the Pirates are now Northwest fans for that affair.
“Can you get me a ticket to that one? That’s going to be a fun one to watch,” said the coach, with a smile. “That’s going to be a battle out there. We’re rooting for both of the teams, but we wouldn’t mind Northwest pulling that one off.”
Still, the Pirates have themselves — and their own SOC II destiny — to emphasize first.
“That’s our main focus. We have to take care of business ourselves and focus on what we can control. We had the chance to tie South Webster back up and we did that. Now we just have to let it ride out and see what happens,” said Perry. “That’s the way it goes.”
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