Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WAVERLY — It wasn’t the most flawless performance Wheelersburg put forth this season. But at this point, all that matters is that the season continues.
Wheelersburg (24-0) had a little trouble putting away Northwest (16-8). But ultimately, the Pirates scored another straight-set victory 25-15, 25-18 and 25-12 on Thursday in a Division III district semifinal.
While it has yet to go four sets in any match this season, it faced a much-improved Mohawk team that had the Pirates on their heels a time or two.
“Northwest has improved so much over the year and they made a lot of really good plays,” Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry said. “They did a good job keeping us out of sync at times and we didn’t respond the way we know we could. We didn’t play our best game. Typically, I’m happy with our result beyond the win. But we aren’t clicking the same way we did earlier in the season so that needs to change quickly.”
Northwest brought the fight early, but had trouble getting out of its own way. After two kills from Wheelersburg’s Mallory Bergan, the Mohawks committed back-to-back hitting errors that pushed Wheelersburg’s lead to 9-5.
From that point, the Pirates poured it on and controlled multiple double-digit leads before closing the deal on a 25-15 win.
But the struggle was just beginning for the Pirates, and Northwest’s Haidyn Wamsley made sure of it. The junior standout showed no fear attacking and defending the Pirates, coming down with a pair of kills and blocks to jumpstart her team.
Combined with Wamsley’s hot start, the serving of Ava Jenkins gave Northwest an 8-4 lead in the second. While Wheelersburg fought back and claimed the lead, it still had its struggles.
“Our passing was off, and our set timing was off, which meant we couldn’t attack like we wanted to,” Perry said. “The strength of our team is the ability to attack and when our offense is clicking, it’s hard for teams to attack back. But something just wasn’t right.”
Wasmley and company continued to hang tough and not put themselves in a bad position. After a Wamsley kill cut the lead to 19-17, the Mohawks attempted to make their move. But Wheelersburg’s Ryleigh Meeker did so first.
She came up with two kills and two blocks, scoring four of the final five Pirate points. Northwest couldn’t answer as the Pirates took a 2-0 match lead.
“Ryleigh is awesome, and the improvement she’s made for just being a sophomore has been great to see,” Perry said. “She’s stepped up and become that piece we were worried about back in the summer, concerning who would filling that hitting role. She’s a clutch player and always comes up with the big hit when we need her to … which is really big as a young player.”
Meeker’s momentum carried over and the Pirates got back to dominant form in the third. After two kills from the sophomore hitter gave them a 15-8 lead, it was smooth sailing to close out the game and move on.
Kylee Barney led the Pirates with 10 kills and six blocks, followed by 14 digs, eight kills and three blocks from Bergan. Meeker added seven kills and three blocks, Emily Boggs and Kaylee Darnell had 12 digs and 11 digs, respectively, and Lauren Jolly passed out 29 assists.
Wheelersburg advances to its fourth straight Division III district final and will play Southeastern on at 4 p.m., Saturday in a district final rematch from 2016. That year, the Panthers downed the Pirates in four sets.
“We have to play better Saturday and pass the ball much more effectively to our setters,” Perry said. “That area of the game is more crucial for us as compared to other teams who can survive just playing defense. We have to rely on our offense and play with more heart.”