NEW LEXINGTON — There are few things, in southeastern Ohio volleyball anyways, quite like a Jeep sweep.
However, such a South Webster win on Thursday night took on even more meaning.
That’s because the Jeeps, making their second consecutive Division IV regional semifinal appearance and third in the past five years, joined seven other programs in forming the 2020 small-school Elite Eight — as South Webster swept first-time regional qualifier Shadyside 25-19, 25-19 and 25-8 at New Lexington High School.
For the Jeeps, not only did they raise their stellar record to 24-1, but more importantly, they advanced to only their second regional championship match in program history.
In other words, the Elite Eight is hallowed ground —but even more so is the coveted state tournament, which the Jeeps are officially only one win away.
This is South Webster’s fifth all-time regional tournament —all since 2002 but only its second semifinal win.
The other came clear back in 2008, in which the Jeeps outlasted Pike Eastern in a thrilling five sets — including three which went past the standard 25 points in rally scoring.
But that was then, and this is now, and it was all about making short work of the East District champion and senior-laden Lady Tigers —as South Webster drove over two hours to New Lexington just to spend slightly over one dispatching of Shadyside.
The first and final sets were rather short — as the Jeeps trailed for the first three points, were tied 2-2 in each, and then never trailed following seizing a 3-2 lead.
In game two, the Tigers took control by tallying 10 consecutive points after falling behind 3-0, but then the Jeeps stormed back for three ties —at 17-17, 18-18 and 19-19.
Shadyside staked a 19-18 advantage after South Webster went ahead 18-17, but the Jeeps — with a combination of kills and blocks by Faith Maloney, Gwen Messer and Bella Claxon —collected the final seven points to win their second straight set by a 25-19 final.
South Webster coach Darcee Claxon said her squad came out “tense” and “didn’t play our best volleyball, but we were still able to come out and execute.”
“I just told them that they’ve (Jeeps) earned the right to be here. They’ve worked hard all season long, so I want to see them play with confidence and go out there and enjoy this opportunity. We’ve talked a lot about the fact that we didn’t know if we’re going to have a season. I don’t want to lose sight of that fact because we’ve had a lot of success. I want them to keep hold of that hunger. In the second set towards the end, they started to relax and in the third set, we came out on fire and finished strong,” said the coach. “It took us a little time to adjust, but we started blocking ball after ball after ball. Our offense got clicking again.”
The Jeeps, as they often do, enjoyed a height advantage again on Thursday night —and began to take aim at hitting downward, recording kills in well-placed spots in the Tigers’ defense, and double-blocking especially well.
Once South Webster went ahead 13-5 in game one after trailing 2-0, the Tigers never got closer than three straight points that made it 18-15.
A hitting error and a Bella Claxon ace ended the opening game, before the Jeeps jumped out to a 3-0 edge in game two — on kills by Maloney and Messer sandwiched around an attack error.
Maloney and Bella Claxon collected 11 kills and two aces off their jump serves apiece, as Messer mustered eight kills and Bri Claxon another three.
Kendall Bender set for 17 assists, as Bella Claxon added 11.
Graci Claxon with 10 digs, Bella Claxon with nine and Messer with seven paced the Lady Jeeps’ defense.
In game three, the Jeeps reeled off five points in a row before Shadyside — which finished at 22-3 — scored again for a 5-4 deficit.
With Maloney gaining the serve, though, the Jeeps scored five more points after another Bella Claxon kill —as they repeated that feat with four more Graci Claxon service points, making it 22-7 before a Kylie Jo Baker kill for Shadyside.
A service error, an attack error and another Claxon ace ended it —and immediately turned Coach Claxon’s attention to Newark Catholic.
The Green Wave, incidentally, was the club that swept South Webster for the regional championship 12 years ago.
On Thursday, in the first semifinal in New Lexington, the Grave Wave topped Trimble in four games — 25-12, 25-27, 25-15 and 25-16.
Now, a dozen years later, while a Jeep sweep is unlikely in all likelihood — South Webster will go after a state tournament berth while exacting a measure of revenge.
Thus, that made Thursday night’s Jeep sweep into the Elite Eight much more meaningful.
“Newark Catholic is a great team. They are good and have been for years. They play with a lot of energy and excitement and have a lot of offensive weapons, but they are not perfect and have weaknesses like anybody else. We’re going to have to attack those and play our own game with our own energy. We’re going to have to settle in and do the things we know how to do,” said Coach Claxon “If we play our game, we have a chance. We’re one of the last eight teams in the state and we’ve earned the right to be there. Whatever happens happens, but let’s just go compete and play the way we know how. We’re just excited to play and I’m excited for these girls and the opportunity that they have.”
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