Brock Netter, Staff Writer
NEW LEXINGTON — South Webster was on the same stage last year and lost a heartbreaker in five games to Shenandoah.
But this time around, with a trip to the Elite 8 on the line, the Jeeps vowed not to make the same mistake twice.
“Last year against Shenandoah, we started out a little scared and timid,” South Webster’s Bri Claxon said. “They had a huge block in the beginning and that really shocked us. We didn’t play the best last year, so we wanted to make it right this time around.”
They did more than just make it right, they dominated and overwhelmed Shadyside from the opening serve by winning in straight sets — 25-19, 25-19, 25-8 — on Thursday in a Division IV regional semifinal at New Lexington High School.
“Honestly, we were tense in the beginning and you could see it on the girls’ faces,” South Webster coach Darcee Claxon said. “But we told the girls that they earned the right to be here and they’ve worked too hard to just let it all go to waste. We reinforced the fact that we could not have had a season at all and enjoy the moment because only 16 teams make it this far, so relish it.”
The Jeeps came out attacking, and just eight points into the game, it was clear that Shadyside was in for a long night. Ahead 4-3, Faith Maloney powered a kill directly off a Shadyside player for the point and the Tigers played rather timid the rest of the night after seeing her power on display.
Maloney notched a kill for a 13-5 lead and later in the set, Bella Claxon served up a 4-0 run along with an ace that pushed the advantage to 16-9.
Shadyside made a small comeback, piecing together a 5-0 run that cut the lead to 18-15. However, the deficit was too much to overcome as kills from Maloney and Gwen Messer followed by a Bella Claxon ace claimed the first set.
The Tigers bounced back in the second, storming out to a 10-0 run behind Tory Hendershot. She logged two kills for a 10-3 lead.
“I wanted to see us come out with the same energy that we had against Notre Dame in the district final because we were on fire,” Darcee Claxon said. “But it didn’t happen. We can’t afford to have slow starts like that anymore because it will cost us. However, the girls did bounce back and respond the way I knew they could.”
The lead shot up to 16-11 for Shadyside, but it couldn’t keep up the intensity offensively. Meanwhile, its defense was starting to show cracks following three straight kills from Maloney.
With all of the Tigers’ attention shifted towards Maloney, it was now Messer’s time to take the spotlight and she didn’t waste her shine.
She had kills that tied the game at 17 and 19 before coming up with a block to put the Jeeps ahead 20-19. From there, she added another kill and block as the Jeeps ended the set on a 7-0 run, going ahead 2-0 in the match.
“Gwen is a huge asset to our team and when she’s playing well, it makes us a completely different team,” Maloney said. “That energy she provided kept all of us up and she played amazing.”
It was clear that comeback to end the set crushed Shadyside’s spirits and the Jeeps put the Tigers completely out of their misery in the final set.
Leading 5-4, they went on an 11-1 run as Bella and Bri Claxon continued to find holes in the Tigers’ defense. Add in aces from Messer, Bri and Graci Claxon, and the Jeeps had no issue as they punched their ticket to the Elite 8.
“Honestly, we knew we were the better team, so if we just played our game then it was just us against ourselves,” Bri said. “It felt good getting this win and redeeming last season.”
South Webster advances to a Division IV regional final at 2 p.m., Saturday at New Lexington against reigning regional champion Newark Catholic, who defeated Trimble in four sets to advance.
“I watched film on Newark Catholic a number of times, and they’re always a really good program,” Darcee said. “They have a lot of offensive weapons, but at the same point, they are not a perfect team and neither are we. We have to play our game, attack their weaknesses and not get sucked into the trap of playing their game.”