SOUTH WEBSTER — It was originally billed as a first-place showcase.
But, with what South Webster did on Thursday night, the gap only increased between the Jeeps and the remainder of the Southern Ohio Conference Division II volleyball field.
That’s because the Jeeps swept the Northwest Mohawks in a key conference clash —trailing only once and being tied only three times in a convincing 25-10, 25-16 and 25-16 victory at South Webster High School.
That’s correct, and now the Jeeps —the defending division co-champions with Wheelersburg —are out in what seems like well in front for the championship chase.
South Webster, with home wins over Wheelersburg and now Northwest, raised its undefeated league record to 6-0 —part of 7-1 overall.
The Mohawks, which also lost at Wheelersburg last week, fell to 5-2 —and to 4-2 in the SOC II.
The Pirates started the league schedule at South Webster and Waverly, falling in four games in both before righting their ship since —including the straight-games win over Northwest.
South Webster will have to travel to Wheelersburg and Northwest still, along with West which it swept a week ago — but for mid-September anyways, the Jeeps appear to be on cruise control in the league.
“This match was important to us. We know we have the firepower, but we still have to show up and play every night. Any one of these teams are going to be looking to beat us. We look forward to those challenges, because the girls need to be challenged,” said SWHS coach Darcee Claxon.
The Mohawks kept competing in all three games, including erasing three three-point deficits (4-1, 5-2 and 6-3) in the third and final —and even twice tying it at 6-6 and 8-8.
That was actually the closest Northwest was since the match’s opening point, but behind a Mohawk net violation for the first set 1-1 tie, senior hitter Bri Claxon served up eight consecutive service points for the Jeeps —and the South Webster runaway was basically on.
Later in the opening game, senior libero Grace Claxon served for five more points in a row —part of 15-point leads at 21-6, 22-7, 24-9 and finally 25-10.
Grace Claxon served for a baker’s dozen in points, while Bri Claxon collected the regular dozen — as South Webster also got seven points apiece from setters Skylar Zimmerman and Bella Claxon.
Bella Claxon served for five aces while her older twin sisters scored two apiece —as both of the elder Claxon siblings attempted 18 serves, while sophomore Bella tried 13 times.
No matter which Claxon was serving, or any Jeep for that matter, Northwest wasn’t handling those incomers.
At the net, the Jeeps put down 40 kills, including the centerpiece senior Faith Maloney, who had a match-high 13.
Bri Claxon added 11, as fellow senior Ryleigh McGraw had six —followed by four by Bella Claxon and three apiece by Zimmerman and Natalie Adkins.
Of the Jeeps’ 35 assists, Bella Claxon amassed all but two.
Darcee Claxon said simply that the Jeeps were a serving, passing, setting and finally hitting machine on Thursday night.
Not that that’s different from most nights with South Webster —as against Northwest it appeared even more effortless.
“We had a lot of kids involved and in action offensively. Bella (Claxon) did a really good job of distributing the ball, and we served super-aggressively. They couldn’t handle our serves, and serving has been our bread-and-butter this year,” said the coach. “We’re passing the ball in a way in which Bella (Claxon) can distribute it anywhere she wants. That makes us dangerous.”
In the second set, the Jeeps raced out to another 8-1 advantage — opening up eight-point leads at 17-9, 18-10 and 19-11, and finally finishing things off after amounting as much as a 24-12 edge.
The Mohawks hit for four points in a row, but a Bella Claxon kill completed the first of two 25-16 triumphs.
In the third set, from the 8-8 tie and as Grace Claxon served six straight points, the Jeeps surged ahead at 17-9 —before nine-point leads at 22-13, 23-14 and finally 25-16.
An emphatic Bri Claxon kill ended it.
“We had a couple of stretches late in the second and third games where I felt like we had some cement feet, but we picked it up. We had to make some adjustments along the way of setting the block correctly, staying focused and disciplined, doing those little things. We responded every time when we had those conversations,” said Coach Claxon. “Northwest did a good job of keeping balls alive and pursuing balls, but we were on the winning end of a lot of those long rallies. We’ve got a lot of really strong hitters, and anybody can put the ball away at any given time.”
The Lady Jeeps are also excellent defensive diggers, spearheaded by Zimmerman and Grace Claxon with 18 apiece.
Bri Claxon added 11 digs, Bella Claxon tallied 10, and even the tall and talented hitter Maloney managed seven.
“Our back row play was really good tonight,” said Coach Claxon. “Skylar (Zimmerman) got to a lot of balls, and she reads the ball very well. Grace does a great job for us just getting touches on balls and covering our hitters. They have a big block, but Grace keeps the ball off the floor because she is always where she is supposed to be in coverage.”
While Northwest will host Clay on Monday in a non-league affair, the Jeeps —coronavirus permitting of course —will bookend next week with a pair of Division II strongholds.
South Webster, as its Saturday non-league match at Alexander is canceled along with Thursday’s SOC II tilt with Waverly, will host Gallia Academy on Monday —and venture to Vinton County next Saturday.
While the Jeeps indeed appear well out in front for the conference race, scheduling up —and playing up — are excellent tests prior to the postseason.
South Webster, after all, is the defending Division IV Region 15 runner-up.
“We have a goal and hope of being conference champions again, but beyond that, we need to prepare for tournament play,” said Coach Claxon. “So I want the girls to be tested and I want to see what kind of grit we’ve got.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved