Brock Netter, Staff Writer
SOUTH WEBSTER — Wheelersburg found itself in unfamiliar territory entering Tuesday’s match at South Webster.
The Pirates entered as the hunters, instead of the hunted. But it was a role that seemed to work well.
With a first-place tie up for grabs in the SOC II, the Pirates went on the attack early before upending the Jeeps in four sets by a 25-18, 25-19, 19-25 and 25-22 — avenging their lone loss this season and handing South Webster its first loss in the process.
“We always have a chip on our shoulder, no matter what. And winning the SOC is always our first goal of the season,” senior hitter Kaylee Darnell said. “South Webster is a really good team, but we came in with the mentality that we are going to fight our hardest and [force a] tie.”
With the score tied 5-5 in the first set, Wheelersburg (11-1, 8-1 SOC II) strung together a 6-0 run that was capped by a kill from Emily Boggs for an 11-5 lead.
Boggs, who wasn’t 100 percent in the first matchup against the Jeeps, seemed to be fully healthy with no setbacks, evidenced by her 17 digs and 12 kills on the evening.
“Emily is the difference maker in a ballgame for us,” Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry said. “She’s so consistent and does all of the little things right. Her not being fully healthy the first time really affected us. We had others step up, but it wasn’t quite the same. She’s getting her power back, she saw the floor really well and found the open spots. I couldn’t be happier with how she played.”
The Pirates had complete control and played with energy as the lead swelled to 20-11 before they closed out the set.
Riding that wave of momentum, they were dominant out of the gates in the second and jumped out to a 10-2 lead before South Webster trimmed it to 11-7, following back-to-back aces from Faith Maloney and a kill from Bella Claxon.
However, the Jeeps (14-1, 10-1 SOC II) couldn’t get out of their own way at times, committing unforced errors and experiencing lapses of miscommunication.
The Pirates’ lead was pushed to 20-14 and, despite South Webster cutting it to 23-19, kills from Boggs and Ryleigh Meeker closed out the second set victory.
Meeker missed the last game against South Webster altogether, and played a major factor at the net on Tuesday. Her last second swings caused a lot of unpredictability for the Jeeps, helping her collect 11 kills on the night.
“After missing the first game, I knew I was going to have to work my tail off just to have a chance in the game,” Meeker said. “I’ve really been focusing on just improving every single day in practice. We’ve all been working towards this game and we wanted it.”
Urgency set in for the Jeeps in the third and they came out with a big punch, taking an 8-2 lead behind Maloney at the net and Bri Claxon at the serving line.
Those earlier communication issues had seemed to fix themselves throughout the set, which allowed them to play a freely.
As Maloney, Bella and Bri Claxon saw the holes and found their swing, the momentum began to shift as the Jeeps never trailed in the third set victory.
“South Webster is an unbelievable team and it’s very possible you could see them getting some pins at state this year,” Perry said. “They’re so well-rounded and they did a great job of keeping us out of our system. That third set was frustrating. We couldn’t get anything going and that’s credit to them for how they kept us out of sync.”
It was a power struggle in the fourth with ties at 7, 8 and 12. But Wheelersburg managed to string together three straight points for a 15-12 advantage.
The Jeeps later battled back to tie the game again at 19, 20 and 21, but two errors gave the Pirates a two-point lead. Darnell and Bella Claxon traded kills, then Meeker powered down the final kill to officially slam the door shut.
“Losing that first game was a wake-up call for us,” Meeker said. “It made us work harder in practice and in games to make sure we could reach South Webster’s level when the second game happened. This was the game we’d been looking forward to and we played our hearts out.”
In addition to Boggs and Meeker, Darnell added 21 digs and 12 kills. Kylee Barney had a team-high 18 kills, Lauren Jolly passed out 47 assists and Kiera Kennard had 21 digs.
Wheelersburg returns to action on Thursday at Waverly, while South Webster returns to action on Saturday at Western.