BEAVER — Darcee Claxon claims it’s the timeout she didn’t call on Tuesday that sparked South Webster.
Trailing 18-15 in the opening set, Claxon’s third-seeded Jeeps just simply shook off any early doldrums against the 10th-seeded West Senators —and scored the final 10 points to take game one.
South Webster went on its predictable power surge from there, and as a result swept the Senators for a third time this season —winning 25-18, 25-12 and 25-16 in a Division III Southeast District volleyball semifinal, inside the Eagles’ Nest at Eastern High School.
Claxon, coaching the Jeeps for nearly two full decades now, commented that her mixed bag of veteran volleyballers and youngsters had a chance to figure issues out for themselves — in a pressure high stakes situation.
South Webster went to work with a sideout and serving runs —then went to work for the remainder of the match’s momentum.
“I debated whether or not to call a timeout, but at the same time, it was a good opportunity for them to work through some kinks. I’ve said this before, but even though we have a lot of returners from last year’s squad, we have a lot of youth out there. So it was really important for them to figure out together as a group how to stop that run and how to gain back control of the game without me,” said the coach. “If I had to intervene, I would have, but I wanted to see if they could do it on their own and they were able to. We took charge and we took control of the match from there.”
With the victory, as the second set wasn’t close at 25-12 and the third set South Webster with the momentum carryover still —the Jeeps captured their 21st consecutive win, raised their stellar record to 22-2, and advanced to Saturday’s district championship tilt against ninth-seeded North Adams.
That’s correct, as South Webster —with four incredibly significant graduation losses following the program’s first-ever appearance in the (Division IV) state tournament last season —won its opener over Waverly with a sweep, but then lost in five sets at Wheelersburg AND against Adena within three days of each other in late August.
Since then, it’s been indeed a September and October to remember —as the Jeeps, as part of this 21-match win streak, gained a measure of revenge against Wheelersburg, winning in five games in the return tilt at South Webster.
In facing West a third time, whom the Jeeps swept twice en route to splitting the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship with Wheelersburg, Claxon said she doesn’t prefer it —for familiarity and tendencies sake.
But, volleyball is a game of momentum indeed —and the Jeeps never let go of it once gaining it on Tuesday.
Addison Claxon, the freshman libero, amounted 17 of the Jeeps’ 46 digs —and helped navigate South Webster’s early-set struggles.
“I probably re-watched that West film at least eight times, making myself crazy over it. But the last thing I want is to see my girls bow out of the tournament because I didn’t prepare them or we weren’t focused or we overlooked an opponent. I wasn’t going to let that happen today, at least to the best of my ability,” said Coach Claxon. “We talked a lot about staying focused and not underestimating West, because they do have several good quality athletes on their team. I think our youth sort of showed in that opening set, because we weren’t connecting as well with our setter and we were anxious. On the flip side, I think Addi (Claxon) played really great defense in that opening set in covering our hitters. It’s an interesting balance that we find out there. Then we just settled in and found our rhythm and groove.”
A Skylar Zimmerman serving run, combined with West making errors, ended the first set 25-18.
In the second game, Lauren Kaltenbach picked up where Zimmerman left off —serving for seven consecutive points, before the Jeeps opened up advantages of 15-4, 21-7, 22-9, 23-10 and finally 25-12.
South Webster wasn’t seriously threatened in the third game either, winning it pulling away at 25-16.
Both coaches commented that the Jeeps got the Senators out of system, and South Webster was dominant once again with its serve-receive game.
Bella Claxon, the District 14 Coaches Association Player of the Year, served for four aces —while Zimmerman zapped West with three and Addison Claxon one.
At the net, Natalie Adkins amassed two solo blocks, while sophomore Mia Crum made one solo block and one block assist.
Of the Jeeps’ 45 receptions, Zimmerman had half at 22 —as Addison Claxon collected 13, Kaltenbach seven and Bella Claxon three.
“We got on serving runs late in the first set and again in the second set. But we have several girls that are able to give the other team fits on serve-receive, because we are outsized, even against West, which has a lot of tall, long and athletic girls,” said Coach Claxon. “We needed to keep them out of system as much as possible, because we can better set up our defense and better know where the ball is going. It’s easier for our blockers to get to where they are supposed to be. Just a lot of moving parts, so serving aggressively definitely benefits us.”
“We let several balls slide right there, got stuck in a rotation we couldn’t get out of, and serve-receive was a weakness for us and Webster is aggressive serving. They had us out of system most of the night, and we just don’t hit well out of system,” said West coach Brittany Sessor. “We just couldn’t convert offensively.”
Meanwhile, the Jeeps did.
Bella Claxon set for 26 of the club’s 31 assists, as Adkins and Makayla Raynard rained down 10 kills apiece —followed by seven by Bella Claxon, five from Zimmerman, and three each from Riley Raynard and Crum.
Sessor said the Jeeps’ big-match experience also played a pivotal factor.
“They’ve played in a lot of big games, especially last season, so they’ve been in that moment,” she said. “We have a lot of athletic girls in multiple sports, and we’ve played in big games too, but this just seemed to be where they capitalized on that momentum and we didn’t. We made some adjustments from the first two matches with them, and it started to pay off in that first set, but once we let those last seven or eight points slide, we never did get it (momentum) back.”
The Senators won a second straight sectional title, libero Emma Sayre surpassed the 1,000 digs plateau early in the campaign, and West went 15-9.
West will graduate three seniors —Abby Taylor, Haley Coleman and Maelynn Howell.
Howell and the junior Sayre were second team all-District 14 for Division III.
“Those three seniors played their tails off tonight and we’re so proud of them. They’ve had a phenomenal season,” said Sessor. “They will be missed and hard to replace. We wish them the very best of luck in everything they go on and do.”
Speaking of moving on, the Jeeps are doing just that —facing North Adams in the district championship on Saturday.
The Green Devils are 17-7, having knocked Nelsonville-York off in four sets in Tuesday’s other semifinal at Eastern —as the fourth-seeded Buckeyes bowed out at 22-2.
Coach Claxon said North Adams “is athletic and can be dangerous when they put it all together”.
“It’s all going to come down to discipline, work ethic and your ability to finish a set,” she said. “Most importantly, at the end of the day, to be successful, you have to execute your gameplan.”
First serve is set for 5 p.m., as the venue of Waverly High School serves as a familiar one for the Jeeps.
South Webster plays at Waverly every year as a member of the SOC II.
“We play a lot there of course, but it’s still a pressure situation that some of these girls have never been in,” said Coach Claxon. “But at the same time, this is what we’ve been preparing for all season. It’s another great opportunity to compete and play for a district championship.”
Speaking of which, South Webster will be playing for its seventh all-time district volleyball title —and fourth in a row.
Its first was in 2002, followed by another in 2008, and finally four Division IV crowns (2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021) — all coming within the past six falls.