SOUTH WEBSTER — The waiting is the hardest part, as the late Tom Petty casually reminds us.
For the South Webster Jeeps volleyball team, their now-claimed share of the Southern Ohio Conference Division II came at the expense of waiting two-and-a-half weeks — following the conclusion of the regular season to play their final league contest.
With their 3-0 sweep of Northwest (25-17, 25-16, 25-20) on Tuesday — a game that was originally scheduled as their home finale on Oct. 15 — the Lady Jeeps indeed won their first share of an SOC II championship.
It is the Lady Jeeps’ sixth league title in program history, and first in nine seasons (1978, 1981, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2020).
South Webster (15-1 SOC II) will split the league title with Wheelersburg, just as it did its two regular-season meetings with the Lady Pirates.
Seniors Gwen Messer, Kendall Bender and Liz Shupert are South Webster’s elder statesmen, so-to-speak, and have helped guide the Lady Jeeps to a 23-1 record through their first 24 games.
Following the win, Messer and Bender discussed the feeling of claiming the program’s first league title in nine years, as well as being able to do it in their senior season.
“We’ve put in a lot of hard work,” Messer said. “We love practicing together. It feels good to be able to do it in our senior year — we keep getting better every year.”
“At the beginning, I was nervous that we might not even have a season,” Bender said. “I’m thankful that we were able to have one and be able to compete with ‘Burg and share the SOC with them.”
Northwest (19-5, 12-4 SOC II), which concluded its season in Tuesday’s loss having already bowed out from the postseason, sure made South Webster work for every point — and congruently, its league title share.
The Lady Mohawks used a timeout trailing 19-16 in set one, and South Webster used its momentum to score six of the last seven set points, winning the first game 25-17.
After taking a 1-0 match lead, the Lady Jeeps played their best volleyball on Tuesday in the second set.
Leading 17-13 near the midway point of the game, South Webster scored five straight — and eight of the last 11 points to take set two 25-16.
Northwest managed to lead for most of the third set, before the Lady Jeeps were motivated by coach Darcee Claxon to close the game out.
Following a timeout in trailing 13-7 early in the third game, South Webster outscored the Lady Mohawks 18-7 in the final 25 points — winning 25-20 in the closest set of the evening.
Freshman Bella Claxon led the Lady Jeeps with a team-high nine kills, team-high 14 assists, and four ace serves.
Bri Claxon had eight kills and six digs, while junior Faith Maloney had seven kills in the win.
Bender totaled 13 assists for the Lady Jeeps, as Messer finished with four kills and three digs.
Junior Rylee McGraw added three kills and one dig.
With their slate of SOC II games complete and a clinched share of the league title, South Webster’s focus now shifts back to the Division IV tournament — and their attempt to advance to a regional championship match.
A win over the East District winner — Shadyside — would do just that, and potentially give the Lady Jeeps a battle with defending regional champ Newark Catholic.
It’s the second straight season South Webster has advanced to the D-4 regional stage, and the third time in the last five years.
South Webster will take on the Lady Tigers at 8 p.m. on Thursday at New Lexington High School — an opportunity both Messer and Bender are looking forward to in their final season.
“We’re super excited,” Messer said, on returning to regionals. “We plan to play our hardest, and we plan to not make as many mistakes as we did last year in unforced errors.”
“We’re practicing tomorrow (Wednesday),” Bender said. “Hopefully it’s one last step in preparing us to face Shadyside.
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