CHILLICOTHE — A by-product of seeding and records during the regular season, just one of these two mainstays in southern Ohio Division IV volleyball were bound to advance to the regional stage for a shot at their first regional crown.
South Webster, returning each of its players sans one from last season’s district championship, and Notre Dame, with a mixture of returnees with plenty of experience and new faces, each took the court knowing one’s run of appearances in the regional tournament would come to an end.
The Lady Jeeps — dropping just one contest and seven sets in total during the regular season — executed in each of their key areas to prevail in a three-set sweep (25-9, 25-17, 25-15) over the Lady Titans.
For South Webster, the win marks its second consecutive Division IV district championship and the program’s third in the last five years (2016, 2019, 2020).
Coming out of the locker-room on a blistering pace, Lady Jeeps coach Darcee Claxon was glad to see her team start strong — and hold off ND’s later-stage comeback attempts.
“We watched film again yesterday and talked about what we needed to do,” Claxon said. “That’s what we really focused on in practice yesterday — this is what we need to execute, and I felt like they came out on fire. We kind of tapered off, but that’s momentum and volleyball. Even when they started to make a charge or comeback, our girls stepped up and stopped it from happening, and it was really good for me to see that.”
Notre Dame’s run of four consecutive Division IV district championships (2016 thru 2019) came to an end in its loss to South Webster.
Second-year Lady Titans coach Cassidy Roney said following the contest that she felt her group played well, but ultimately came up short against a really strong opponent.
“I feel that we performed well, just fell short to a very solid team all-around,” Roney said. “They’re a really strong team at the net and serving line, some of their hits and serves were just too much for us to handle. I’m proud of our effort and how we fought to the end without giving up.”
South Webster took set one by a 25-9 margin — in what would be the most convincing set of the match.
The Lady Titans fell behind in sets two and three, but managed to cut into the Lady Jeeps’ lead on both occasions.
Despite its lead reduced in set two to 22-16 — and in set three to 15-13 — it was South Webster which would limit Notre Dame to just one and two points, respectively, by the end of each game.
Saturday’s win was the second time this year the Lady Jeeps had bested the Lady Titans — additionally doing so in three sets back on Aug. 29 in ND’s season opener and SW’s non-league opener.
Junior standout Faith Maloney had a team-high 17 kills and a team-high seven service aces to help lead the Lady Jeeps to victory.
Bri Claxon added seven kills and four digs, while sister Bella Claxon totaled a team-high 19 assists and five digs.
Senior setter Kendall Bender compiled 12 assists and three digs in the win.
Notre Dame is to graduate three seniors — Ava Hassel, Claire Dettwiller and Chloe Delabar — each of whom has been a part of four straight Southern Ohio Conference Division I championship teams, as well as claiming district titles in their first three seasons as Lady Titans.
“I had the greatest group of seniors this year,” Roney said. “They are the absolute best leaders that a coach can ask for. They came in every single day and gave me 100-percent effort at all times. They are always working to improve themselves, as well as helping their teammates get better. Very proud of those three and all that they have accomplished in their four years playing this sport. I wish that I had more than two years with them — they are such a good group and so easy to coach. We’ll miss them a lot next year. Our returning players have some big shoes to fill, but I’m confident they can handle it.”
With the win, the Lady Jeeps — now 22-1 — indeed have their chance at redeeming themselves at the regional stage.
In a five-set loss to Shenandoah a year ago at the same stage, South Webster came out somewhat flat — falling in set one 25-9 before winning the next two, ultimately falling in five sets.
Coach Claxon believes that experience from a season ago has in fact carried over to this season — and will play a large role in their preparation for their next opponent, Shadyside.
“Last year, if you were there when we played Shenandoah, it looked like we had never touched a volleyball,” she said. “We recovered and took them to five sets and lost, and we still didn’t play our best volleyball. I think our girls know that and it’s kind of simmered there for a year. Now, they’ve got that confidence and experience. I think they’re ready to go and compete, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Shadyside stormed back from down two games in their own Division IV district final versus Tuscarawas Central Catholic, claiming the last three sets in dramatic fashion.
A win over the Lady Tigers would mean the Lady Jeeps would become the first Division IV team from Scioto County to advance to the regional final — since Clay and Notre Dame squared off in their epic five-set final two years ago.
For now, Claxon and South Webster are focused on Shadyside — and executing their gameplan early and often.
“At this point, I think it’s us against ourselves,” Claxon said. “We’ve got to go and execute. We’re going to watch film, see what their tendencies are and see what they do. But we’ve got the pieces of the puzzle to win at least this next game. We’re going to win that one, and then we’re going to focus on the next one.”
The Lady Jeeps will take on Shadyside in a Division IV regional semifinal on Thursday (Nov. 5) at 8 p.m. at New Lexington High School.
The winner between South Webster and Shadyside will meet the winner of the other Division IV regional semi — between defending regional champ Newark Catholic and Trimble on Saturday (Nov. 7).
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved