CARROLL — It was a sun-soaked Saturday around the Lancaster area, but no doubt, there was still a storm —and a perfect storm at that —quickly brewing inside Bloom-Carroll High School.
And, truth be told, that storm — in the form of the South Webster Jeeps — hit the Newark Catholic Green Wave with such tsunami-esque force.
As for the aftermath, that’s easy —as the Jeeps have completed their course and accomplished their initial mission of reaching the Division IV state volleyball tournament.
That’s because, in an emphatic straight-sets sweep on Saturday, the Jeeps exacted a measure of revenge on the Green Wave while winning their first-ever regional championship in the sport — rolling to a 25-15, 25-22 and 25-13 victory over Newark Catholic inside an amped-up Tom Petty Gymnasium.
Indeed, while winning in four sets in a regional semifinal epic against Trimble on Thursday night — the regional championship result was perhaps anticlimactic, given the Green Wave’s win in four sets in the same regional final from a year ago.
In the rematch, Bri Claxon closed the first set on a serving run of a lifetime, the Jeeps prevailed in the second set 25-22, and South Webster opened the third and final set with starts of 11-0, 13-1 and finally 20-8.
With the final point, a four-hit violation on Newark Catholic, the Jeeps clinched the match —and erupted in wild celebration at the center of their side of the net.
South Webster had exorcised some demons from last year and in 2008 against the Green Wave, raised its stellar record to 25-1, won its 22nd consecutive match, and most importantly, won the Region 15 championship trophy for the first time in school history.
In addition, the Jeeps become the third Scioto County unit in four years to punch a volleyball state tournament ticket —with Wheelersburg doing it in Division III two years ago and Clay in Division IV three years back.
The Jeeps’ only loss remains in their fourth match of the season —a three-set hard-fought defeat at Division III Region 11 champion Adena.
“The girls really believed that they could come and take care of business. That’s just such a huge part of it. The belief in yourself, and the belief that you can execute and you can trust each and every one of your teammates,” said SWHS head coach Darcee Claxon. “The girls just really settled in, but that camaraderie and love they have for each other and belief in each other, I really think that’s the difference. I really do. And the skill level doesn’t hurt either.”
No doubt these Jeeps are a close-knit group — and super-skilled at hitting, digging and serving as well — while nerves were much calmer this time around, according to Coach Claxon.
After the regional semifinal win, the coach keyed on keeping calmer against Newark Catholic —more than what the Jeeps were last season against the Green Wave.
“I had a ton of nerves playing Trimble, and I just felt a lot more at peace playing this match,” said the coach.
A year ago, the Jeeps struggled in the opening set before hitting another gear in the game-tying second game —although Newark Catholic captured the final two sets, and its second consecutive regional title.
On Saturday, the nerves were not there for the Jeeps — just staying right with the Green Wave early on, before blitzkrieging it with a staggering 17-1 run to end the opening game.
“I didn’t get too worked up about it again, because our pattern has been to start just a little bit slow. And it wasn’t even nerves. I think it just takes some time to settle in and build momentum. The girls have trained and know what they need to do,” said the coach. “I can rip into them sometimes, but I really think they just have to figure out how to release that nervous energy, just settle in, and play their game.”
That they did after falling behind by as much as 14-8 in the opener, as Bri Claxon came to the service line —and totally turned the tide.
Of the Jeeps’ 45 service points, the senior finished with 28 —along with six of the squad’s nine aces in the match.
“The longer she was back there, the more vicious she became,” said Coach Claxon. “But again, it comes back to confidence. She just kept building confidence and was back there ripping on balls. She’s been really working on keeping her elbow high and she jumps so well. She has really developed one tough serve. With Faith (Maloney) in the front row and Bri back there serving, that’s a nasty combination.”
She also chipped in a half-dozen kills, which were down from her match-high 22 against Trimble, but her digging was crucial against Newark Catholic —as she finished with 14, trailing only senior libero and twin sister Graci Claxon (15).
In fact, Bri recorded her 1,000th career dig during the contest.
Her front-row partner in crime, and fellow senior and first-team all-Ohioan as announced on Sunday Faith Maloney, muscled for 20 of the Jeeps’ 35 kills —as she, Bella Claxon and Skylar Zimmerman all served an ace.
Bella Claxon set for 31 of the club’s 32 assists —with Maloney managing the other —as both, from the front row, had a solo block apiece.
Zimmerman with a dozen and Bella Claxon with nine were the next highest Jeeps’ diggers —of the team’s 61.
The Jeeps also rallied late to win the second set, although the deficit was only 20-18 — before they scored four straight and held on to win 25-22.
Again, they kept calm and steered the ship —as it was the second straight strong serving game by Bri Claxon.
“Newark Catholic is still a good team. They were getting kills, they were hitting shots and exploiting some of our areas of weakness, but we were still able to sideout, find holes on their floor, and again, just not panic,” said Coach Claxon. “Stay calm, stay composed, and do what we had to do to finish that game. It just comes down to consistency too, and we were very consistent.”
Consistent yes, and absolutely on fire for the third set.
The Jeeps amassed the opening 11 points —as the only battle in that game was a split of the final 10 points for five apiece, including the 25-13 final.
“At that point, they felt it in their grasp, they knew they were capable of it, and we didn’t want to let our foot off that gas pedal at all. We didn’t want to give them any kind of energy or let them have any kind of momentum,” said the coach. “We just wanted to take the game to them, and at that point, the girls knew they could do it and nobody was going to stop them.”
Indeed, truth be told, given the Jeeps’ talent and returning experience from last year’s regional runner-up group, their state tournament course was crystal clear —from the opening serve in August to this sun-soaked Saturday.
Darcee Claxon, as a player, was part of the River View team to make the Final Four in 1994.
To return to the state tournament in 2021, she called it “the perfect storm”.
“It’s fantastic. This has been something 17 years in the making. These girls had a dream, and everybody got on board with this dream,” she said. “Small schools like South Webster don’t always have these kinds of opportunities. But it was just a perfect storm for our success this year. We’re going to celebrate this because we’re one of the four remaining teams left in Division IV in the state. That’s worth celebrating to me, so we’re going to.”
That storm will last until at least Thursday evening — when South Webster will play New Knoxville in the Division IV state semifinals, on the campus of Wright State University in Dayton and inside the spacious Nutter Center.
First serve is set for 6 p.m.
New Knoxville, incidentally, was the Northwest District and Region 14 champion —knocking out the 2017 and 2019 Division IV state champion New Bremen for the district crown, before bouncing the 2018 and 2020 state champion Tiffin Calvert for the regional title.
The other state semifinal is at 4 p.m. — between St. Henry and Monroeville.
As for the Jeeps, just having a chair at the proverbial table for the first-time ever gives them a shot at advancing to Saturday’s state championship bout.
“We’re going to watch film and we can’t allow our nerves to overtake us, because that entire atmosphere is unbelievable,” said Coach Claxon. “But we’re going to prepare and do what we have done all season and battle and see what happens.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved