Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
DAYTON — All season long, Wheelersburg’s volleyball program has made a habit of making history.
The Pirates, now sitting at a perfect 27-0, ripped off a 73-set win streak this year, set multiple individual records along the way, and advanced to their first-ever regional championship game.
This past Saturday, they took it another step further, winning their first-ever regional title in an improbable five-set win over Berlin Hiland.
Thursday afternoon, they’ll make their first-ever state tournament appearance, competing on the hardwood of Wright State University’s Nutter Center. Wheelersburg’s opponent is a formidable one … Independence finished last season as the state runner-up and brings back plenty of talent.
Before the Pirates and Blue Devils meet at noon on Thursday in a Division III state semifinal, here’s a preview of the match.
|Alli McQuay and Kylee Barney (251)||KILLS||Hannah Wilson (326)|
|Alli McQuay (42)||ACES||Macy McNamara (59)|
|Kylee Barney (106)||BLOCKS||Katie Taliaferro (48)|
|Kaylee Darnell (264)||DIGS||Abby Avila (160)|
|Lauren Jolly (883)||ASSISTS||Abby Avila (857)|
|Mallory Bergan (289)||SERVE RECEPTIONS||Hannah Wilson (291)|
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mallory Bergan, Wheelersburg: When Wheelersburg needed a kill at crunch time, every time Saturday, Bergan’s number was called. She answered with a team-high 19 kills and now has 185 on the year. She’s also a huge help on the defensive end as she’s totaled 253 digs, 40 blocks and a team-high 289 serve receptions. One of two seniors on the roster — District 14 Player of the Year Alli McQuay is the other — Bergan is the leader the team looks to when it finds trouble. There’s no stage too big for Bergan. She’ll come to play like she always does.
Emily Boggs, Wheelersburg: In the Pirates’ five-set win over Hiland, Boggs was one of the team’s hottest players down the stretch. She was a central reason why the tides changed and a key piece to the win, posting 10 kills … just one shy of her season high. Boggs gets lost in the shuffle sometimes with so many big-name players stepping up and filling the Pirates’ stat sheet. But make no mistake, she’s highly capable of making a huge impact.
Maddy Bilinovic, Independence: Surprisingly, Bilinovic is the Blue Devils’ only All-Ohioan … she earned first-team honors this past week. But she wears the badge quite well, leading the team’s defense with 146 digs in just 42 sets, or 10.4 per match. Bilinovic is a Penn State commit that owns 1,347 career digs as well as 1,472 serve receptions and just 42 reception errors. She’s certainly the leader of the Blue Devils’ defense, she’s tough as nails and she’ll be a thorn in Wheelersburg’s side all day long.
Grace Smotek, Independence: Smotek, a 5-foot-8 junior, has had success at this level before. In the Blue Devils’ two-game state tourney stay last fall, she led the team with 21 kills … 14 in the state title match … and 18 digs. On the year, Smotek has 226 kills, 44 aces, 18 blocks and 133 digs. In big games, Smotek seems to rise to the occasion … against Padua Franciscan earlier this season, she posted a season-high 18 kills.
- Independence’s four losses have to come to Magnificat (3-1), Huron (3-0), Bishop Fenwick (2-0) and Padua Franciscan (3-2), four teams with a combined record of 89-15. On top of that note, Bishop Fenwick (26-1) will be playing in a Division II state semifinal while Padua Franciscan (27-0) — one of the nation’s top 10 teams — will do the same in the Division I bracket.
- Wheelersburg lost its first two sets this this season in the team’s regional championship win over Berlin Hiland. Before that day, the Pirates had the aforementioned 73-set win streak intact … they’re now 76-2 this fall. Over their five-match tournament run, the Pirates have beaten Portsmouth (6-14), Northwest (16-8), Southeastern (13-13), Adena (18-8) and Hiland (26-2). Wheelersburg’s Kylee Barney and Alli McQuay have also set records this season … Barney has the new single-season (106) and career (201) blocks marks while Alli McQuay has the new career service points record at 725.
- The Blue Devils have state tournament experience, winning their only two regional titles in the past two years. Last season, after beating Defiance Tinora, Independence was swept by Versailles in the Division III state championship match by a 25-23, 25-23, 25-19 final. In 2017, the Blue Devils were ousted in the state semifinal by Coldwater, 25-19, 25-21, 25-23.
IF YOU GO …
WHEN: 12 p.m., Thursday
WHERE: Wright State University’s Nutter Center
THE WINNER GETS: Wheelersburg or Independence will play the winner of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and Findlay Liberty-Benton. That match will take place directly after the Pirates and Blue Devils meet.
FOLLOW LIVE: You can follow all of the action on social media or watch it on television. Our Derrick Webb will have live Twitter updates at @dw1509, the OHSAA will have a pay-per-view broadcast available here.