Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
DAYTON — After an undefeated regular season, 73 straight set wins, a third consecutive district crown and its first-ever regional title … in an instant classic that happened in the most improbable of ways … Wheelersburg’s magical volleyball run has finally reached its conclusion.
In a Division III state semifinal at Wright State University’s Nutter Center Thursday afternoon, the Pirates (27-1) met their match in a straight-set loss to Independence.
The Blue Devils (24-4), who lost two of their four games this season to teams that have advanced to the Division I and II state semifinals, beat Wheelersburg by a 25-10, 25-12, 25-12 final.
But that doesn’t negate what the Pirates had already accomplished leading up to that point.
“We’re super proud of our girls. It’s been a magical season,” Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry said. “We didn’t want to finish it like this but that’s a very respectable program that we just played out there. We started this season really well and we maintained that. The game’s over and I still believe that we could prevail.”
After surrendering a 3-0 run to begin the first set, Kylee Barney got the Pirates on the board with the team’s first kill. Two Independence hitting errors followed and the game was tied 3-3.
Later, with an 8-5 lead in her pocket, the Blue Devils’ Macy McNamara stepped to the service line and led her team on an 11-0 run to blow the doors off the gates. That was the centerpoint of a 25-10 win to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
In the second, Independence once again used a lengthy scoring run to pull away. After Wheelersburg’s Ryleigh Meeker cut the lead to 7-5 with a kill, the Blue Devils scored six consecutive points to go ahead 13-5.
The Pirates stayed close as Barney came alive late, cutting the lead to 17-10, but Independence, led by Hanna Wilson and Grace Smotek, earned a 25-12 victory.
Wheelersburg took a 1-0 lead in the third when Barney sent a ball to the floor. She later made it 2-1 with another kill. However, the Blue Devils quickly regrouped and used a 6-0 run to take a 9-3 lead. Later, trailing 20-10, Wheelersburg’s Emily Boggs logged two straight kills to cut the lead to eight points. But Independence closed the door with a final 5-0 run.
While the Blue Devils possess a boatload of talent, something that showed throughout the coach of the match, Perry said he didn’t feel as if his girls played their best volleyball.
“With all due respect to that program … they’ve made it here three years in a row … I’m not sure if it was necessarily them that got us off our game,” Perry said. “We were on a big stage today and when you show up to something like this for the first time, it’s kind of overwhelming. I don’t think we played our best volleyball at all, and that’s with total respect for [Independence].”
Barney led the Pirates with nine kills and two blocks, Boggs had four kills and nine digs, Bergan and McQuay each had three kills while Bergan added 12 digs, Lauren Jolly finished with 16 assists, and Kaylee Darnell logged a team-high 16 digs.
For Independence, Katie Taliaferro led the team with 15 kills while Smotek and Wilson each ended the day with eight kills. Abby Avila had 31 assists, Madelyn Bilinovic finished with a team-high 15 digs and McNamara had six service aces.
For full statistics from the match, click here.
The loss forces the Pirates to bid adieu to McQuay and Bergan, two All-Ohioans and the team’s unquestioned two leaders.
“They’ve lost 10 games total in their careers,” Perry said. “They’ve had a very successful past here. They’re going to be missed. After we leave here today, we’ll start looking at next year and we won’t have them anymore. But I’ve got some ideas [about how they’ll fill those needs].”
While the Pirates’ magical season has come to an end, Perry said you can expect to see the program back at the Nutter Center in the near future.
“We’ll be back. I remember three years ago, when we went to the regional, we were a little bit overmatched against Tusky [Valley],” Perry said. “We worked at it and now we’re here. You haven’t seen the last of us yet. Like I said, we were a little overmatched today. But it was the same way three years ago. I expect us to go back to work. You’re going to see us again.”