Brock Netter, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — The streak is over.
Wheelersburg has dominated the SOC II volleyball race for the past five seasons, winning 67 straight conference games.
But now, there’s a blemish.
Behind Faith Maloney and Bri Claxon, South Webster (4-0, 2-0 SOC II) brought a big fight and a bigger energy to Wheelersburg (2-1, 1-1 SOC II), marching out with a four-set victory by a 23-25, 25-23, 25-11, 25-19 final on Tuesday.
It marked the first conference loss for Wheelersburg since Sept. 17, 2015, and the first loss to South Webster since 2013.
“We hadn’t beaten Wheelersburg in a long time, but we knew we had the firepower to do so,” Bri Claxon said. “It’s been a struggle in the past, but now that we could match them, all we had to do was play to our ability and we did that.”
This was the Jeeps’ time to show just how real they were, and they didn’t squander the chance. They jumped on Maloney’s back early and rode the 5-foot-10 standout to a 16-10 lead.
That lead was later bumped to 20-14, but that’s when issues started happening. The energy ran low and the communication wasn’t there, which led to mistakes.
On the other side of the net, Wheelersburg’s Kylee Barney and Kaylee Darnell were the driving force behind a Pirates’ comeback. With kill after kill being registered, the Jeeps’ six-point lead turned into a one-point deficit at 21-20.
With momentum on the Pirates’ side, kills from Barney and Darnell closed the door and gave them a first set victory.
“We didn’t pursue the ball very well, which is what cost us the first set,” Maloney said. “There was still a little bit of nerves throughout the set. But we didn’t let it get to us. We adjusted, relied on each other and we knew we had to finish.”
With no margin for error, both teams traded kills back and forth with no lead larger than three points as the Jeeps were ahead 12-9. With ties coming at 14, 15, 18, 19, 20 and 21, Gwen Messer came up with a kill to put the Jeeps ahead before Bri and Isabella Claxon finished things off with a pair of kills for the win.
Using that momentum, they jumped all over Wheelersburg and led 10-3 out of the gates to open the third. Sensing the Pirates were low on energy, the Jeeps went for the kill – pun intended – and extended their lead to 14-6, and then 18-9, before finishing in dominant fashion for a 2-1 set lead.
“Although we dropped the first set, I think it showed the girls that they can hang with Wheelersburg,” South Webster coach Darcee Claxon said. “But our communication was still lacking, and I told Graci [Claxon] and Kendall [Bender] that they were doing great, but I needed them to talk. We needed vocal leaders on the floor, and they responded to that.”
Wheelersburg regained its energy in the fourth and jumped out to a quick 6-2 advantage. Both teams exchanged 4-0 runs as the Pirates remained ahead 10-6.
Then Maloney went on a tear, serving a pair of aces at the serving line before powering down a pair of kills to tie the game at 12.
“Faith is a great player and always brings her best game every night,” Bri Claxon said. “Even if she’s having an off night, she’s still playing pretty well and we back her up every way we can. She played awesome and really put her stamp on the game.”
The Jeeps regained their lead following a kill from Claxon, but still felt the Pirates breathing down the back of their necks. Maintaining its course, Maloney powered down two more kills for a 20-18 lead before Claxon added two more kills to finish off the Pirates with the loudest statement of a victory.
“There were times I was struggling to hit, but Bri was right there every single time to pick me up and she played a great game,” Maloney said. “My whole team did amazing, and a game like this shows us what we can do. Our confidence is high but we can’t just sit back. We have to keep pushing.”
Maloney finished the game with 23 kills, nine digs and four aces to lead the Jeeps, while Bri and Isabella Claxon added 12 digs and nine kills each. Isabella also had 19 assists.
Kendall Bender added 22 assists, seven digs and three aces, and Graci Claxon had 17 digs, five assists and a pair of aces.
For the Pirates, Barney finished with 15 kills and Darnell had 20 digs. Lauren Jolly passed out 20 assists and logged her 1,000th career assist in the process. The senior’s career total now stands at 1,005.
Both teams are back in action on Thursday at home in conference action. South Webster hosts Eastern, while Wheelersburg welcomes Waverly.