DAYTON — Unfortunately for the South Webster Jeeps, they were living last Thursday in the Division IV volleyball state semifinals — in Carsyn Henschen’s world.
That’s because Henschen, the six-foot one-inch New Knoxville senior standout middle hitter, hammered home 30 of the Rangers’ 59 total kills —and spearheaded the Rangers’ four-set 25-21, 25-11, 14-25 and 25-20 triumph over the Jeeps inside the Nutter Center at Wright State University.
It was just the Jeeps’ second setback of the entire season, but unfortunately it ended South Webster’s historic campaign — which finished at 25-2, with a 22-match winning streak, and as regional champions for the first time in school history.
In fact, besides that three-set sweep (17-25, 24-26, 22-25) at Division III state semifinalist Adena in its fourth match of the year — South Webster dropped just one set apiece against Wheelersburg (first set 26-28) and Northwest (second set 22-25), two sets at Trimble (15-25 second set and 17-25 fourth set) in a five-set non-league thriller, and finally the third set (22-25) against Trimble in the regional semifinals.
But Henschen — the Division IV first-team all-Ohio outside hitter and Duquesne commit — had it indeed dialed up, and was simply putting balls down.
Thirty of them in fact, and at one point was chasing the Division IV state tournament record for most kills in a three-set match —which is 25.
The four-set mark is 47, as Henschen had 10 first-set kills and another nine in the second set —as the Rangers roared to a 25-11 second-set victory, which was the Jeeps’ worst singular-set defeat of the entire season.
Finally, South Webster won the third set 25-14 —thanks in part to Henschen being parked on the back line in the Rangers’ rotation, and not up front.
“A kid with that much talent is going to get kills. So the question is how do we contain her? We did find some success in that at times, but she still is going to get kills and put balls away,” said SWHS coach Darcee Claxon. “But she got stuck in the back row in that third set and we took advantage.”
Coach Claxon was asked, point blank, in the postmatch press conference if Henschen was the best player her Jeeps had seen.
“We’ve faced some good teams, but yes, she is the best player,” she said.
Although, she had just six and five kills respectively in the final two games.
Combine that with the Jeeps taking a 6-5 third-set advantage —and never relinquishing it from there.
The Rangers got an ace from Erica Weadock to make it 10-9, but then Bri Claxon came up with a Jeep kill —before 10 consecutive Graci Claxon service points.
One individual Division IV record did fall on Thursday, as New Knoxville’s all-Ohio first-team setter Ellie Gabel set for 51 assists —breaking by two (49) the previous record set seven years ago by Fort Loramie’s Hallie Benanzer.
The Rangers racked up 55 assists as a team, as Weadock served for three aces.
A set mark
The Jeeps’ 25-14 third-set victory was the first state semifinal singular-set win by a Scioto County club — given South Webster was the third representative in the past four tournaments.
Clay was a fellow Division IV state semifinalist three years ago and Wheelersburg in Division III two years back —but Tiffin Calvert swept Clay, and Independence did the same to Wheelersburg.
And, truth be told, South Webster was right in position to take sets one and four as well —losing those 25-21 and 25-20, but leading by as much as 9-4 and 10-5 in the first and 7-3 in the last.
There were eight ties and three lead changes in the opening game, and six ties and five lead changes in the closer.
South Webster was the clear-cut victor in the third game, which made Coach Claxon proud.
“I have to give our girls credit. We got smoked in set two, and I was lighting into them. As competitors, they were not going to forget this and it was going to sit with them forever…if this was how they were going to continue to play. New Knoxville is good. Make them earn it. If they were going to beat us, then make them earn it. Do not just give it to them,” she said. “In that third set, we came out on fire. As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Plus, the senior quartet of Bri Claxon, Graci Claxon, Faith Maloney and Rylee McGraw —which were all present for Thursday night’s press conference —didn’t want to go out on the wrong end of a state sweep.
“We just played that third set like we knew how,” said Bri Claxon. “We pursued the ball on defense, we lined our block up, and we didn’t want to get swept. We knew that could be our last set playing together, so we just give it our all.”
“We were more confident in that set,” added Maloney. “We really relied on each other and just kept playing to the end. When they started going on their run in the first two sets, it obviously flustered us. We’re not used to somebody hitting us hard like that back-to-back. I think a lot of it had to do with the atmosphere. We were all nervous at the beginning, and once we let one mistake get to us, we let multiple ones get to us.”
Although volleyball is a momentum sport within each individual set, the Jeeps did demonstrate they could play right with New Knoxville.
“The girls came here on a big stage, first female South Webster team in history, and they held their own and competed,” said Coach Claxon. “They responded, they made me proud and they made us proud.”
Incidentally, that is the same Ranger squad which won Saturday’s state championship in four games —defeating fellow MAC rival St. Henry.
It is the first state volleyball title for New Knoxville, which was also a semifinalist in 1989 — and again in 2006 as the runner-up.
“We knew New Knoxville was coming from the MAC, and I know the MAC is the best conference for Division III and IV volleyball in Ohio,” said Coach Claxon. “We knew they were going to be good. There’s no question about it.”
For the Jeeps’ four seniors, the state tournament was a lifelong goal — and dream realized.
They were regional semifinalists as sophomores, regional runners-up as juniors, and the expectations all along in their senior seasons were that South Webster was a Division IV Final Four caliber-club.
It was indeed a tearful press conference for that foursome —only because the incredible journey was officially, yet unfortunately, over.
However, it’s going to be one surely reflected upon with fond memories.
“The hardest part for me is that this last year, everyone on this team I can call my best friend. And I’ll never put this jersey back on to play with them” said McGraw.
“We’re losing each other too. We’re not going to see each other to play volleyball together again,” continued Maloney, the six-foot first-team all-Ohio middle hitter. “It’s hard.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of all of us and what we’ve done this season,” said Bri Claxon. “It’s hard because it’s my last sport playing with all three of them. These are my best friends. I think we’ve all grown into ourselves a lot since our freshman year. Just to see these girls beside me and our whole team grow has been really special and I am so proud of that. I didn’t want to lose of course, but if there was somewhere we could have lost, I am proud that it was here. This is a big accomplishment for all of us.”
Darcee Claxon concurred.
“Just very proud of this experience and this opportunity. In Scioto County, we don’t get a lot of respect in volleyball or in a lot of anything. But I am proud of this team and our program and what we’ve accomplished,” said the coach. “I’d pick these girls any day of the week and twice on Sunday. That’s the story and I’m sticking to it.”
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