SUGAR GROVE — The plan was always to go five sets, according to coach Allen Perry.
The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates did in fact force a winner-take-all fifth set in their Division III regional semifinal contest versus Tuscarawas Valley — district champions representing the East District.
However, as is sometimes the nature of that first-to-15 fifth-set scenario, this particular outcome didn’t favor the Lady Pirates.
With Wheelersburg holding an 11-7 lead in set five, the Lady Trojans seized momentum coming out of a timeout — scoring eight of the last 10 points to win the match 3-2 (25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 25-27, 15-13), and earn their spot in Saturday’s regional final.
“We knew we were in for a marathon,” Perry said. “I would take my girls six-out-of-10 times in that fifth set against that team; just didn’t work out this time.”
Wheelersburg’s performances in sets two and four helped pave the path for that game-deciding fifth set.
No set aside from the first was decided by more than four points either way, and each set score was seemingly indicative of how much of a dogfight each point was in each game.
Coming out of a Tusky Valley timeout, and holding onto a 20-19 lead, the Lady Pirates managed to score five of the last nine points in set two to even the match at 1-1 — and give themselves new life after a somewhat off start.
In set three, attempting to take its first outright lead of the match, Wheelersburg overcame a 21-15 deficit after four straight points, forcing a Lady Trojans’ timeout.
Tusky Valley would hold onto the third 25-21 and retake a one-set lead, needing just one more game win to advance its season.
Wheelersburg was far from done fighting, however.
Overcoming a successful Tusky Valley comeback in set four as they took a 24-22 lead, the Lady Pirates — down to their last match point of the season — rallied to score five of the last six points, winning 27-25 and forcing that win-or-go-home fifth and final set.
“The first set, I don’t think we were outplayed. I think we were so amped up that we kind of overplayed,” Perry said. “Our timing was off a little bit, and then you’re trying to play catch-up. I’d rather come out over-amped and overplay as opposed to being scared, reluctant and letting the ball drop. We knew we were going to win the second or third set, we just didn’t know which one. It was part of the gameplan, and we had a really good gameplan against this team. It executed really well and came down to the end.”
Wheelersburg’s leading hitters were about as balanced statistically as you could ask for.
Seniors Kylee Barney and Kaylee Darnell recorded 12 and 10 kills, respectively, while Barney added a game-high nine blocks on the defensive side of the net.
Junior Ryleigh Meeker added a team-high 14 kills and four blocks, sophomore Madie Mays had six kills, six blocks and four assists, and senior Emily Boggs had seven kills and 13 digs.
Darnell finished with a game-high 17 digs, as one of five Lady Pirates to tally double digits in digs.
Lauren Jolly totaled a team-high 39 assists to go along with 14 digs, three blocks and 11 service points.
Sophomore libero Kiera Kennard had 14 digs, while Lyndsay Heimbach had 10 of her own.
Wheelersburg’s five seniors — Barney, Jolly, Darnell, Boggs and Jaiden Missler — leave behind a legacy as the winningest senior class in their program’s history.
That’s no hyperbole.
Through their four seasons as Lady Pirates, the Wheelersburg High School volleyball team compiled a 99-7 record, captured four Division III Southeast District championships, stood atop the pedestal among Southern Ohio Conference foes, and helped capture the program’s first regional championship in 2019.
To say that Perry, and the Wheelersburg volleyball program as a whole, will be quick to replace their skill, team and individual accomplishments — that would be the hyperbole.
“They’re highly-decorated,” Perry said. “I don’t think there’s any group of Wheelersburg volleyball players that have accomplished what they have in four years. I’ll let their work speak for itself.”
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