Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — The mistakes that Unioto made in its season-opening loss against Logan Elm seemed long gone on Thursday.
Behind a mix of youth and experience, the Shermans (1-1) looked like they had identified and repaired those miscues on a short turnaround. Led by returners Carissa Wheeler, Ella Cutright, Sophie Coleman and Ava Eldridge, as well as a host of newcomers, the Tanks flipped the script.
The result was a 25-18, 25-16, 25-17 sweep of crosstown rival Chillicothe (0-1).
“It’s just working on that mesh,” Unioto coach Jackie Kellough said. “Our youth and our experience … it’s just finding the balance of working well and communicating. Logan Elm was the first game a lot of us have been together. It was kind of making sure we were cleaning up those small mistakes. I thought we did a nice job of executing and taking what we didn’t do right on Tuesday and fixing those things tonight.”
Wheeler, Eldridge and Cutright — as well as Sydney McGlone — carried the offensive load while Coleman, Emma Specht and Megan Miller, both sophomores, anchored the defense.
When you throw in the efforts of freshmen Jade Stewart and Kyra Stulley, you start to see just how special this year’s team can be — especially if they play like they did on Thursday.
“[Unioto’s freshmen] don’t have a lot of varsity experience but they do have a lot of volleyball under their belts. That showed tonight,” Kellough said. “Jade, in the back row, she’s so aggressive. If she messes up, she’s tough as nails and she shakes it off. Then Kyra is just a big block we have out there. She gets back quick, too. She was out the first week of practice that we had but she’s bounced back and she’s worked hard for us. She killed it tonight.”
And then there’s Avery Cox, who impressed fans all evening.
The sophomore shouldered some setting responsibilities but also showed the ability to swing at the net when given the chance to do so.
“Avery set for us on the JV squad last year and was a hitter, and you can see she’s confident in that role,” Kellough said. “She goes out there and she’s aggressive at the net, which I think is a good thing to have in a setter. And on that backside, she can get a quick swing or she’s ready there for hands. It’s a good thing to be able to have.”
Unioto jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first set and extended it to 10-4, forcing the Cavaliers to call timeout. Chillicothe then fought back to force a 12-12 tie, but after a 14-14 stalemate, the Shermans ripped off a 9-3 run to go ahead 23-17. That was the key to a 25-18 victory.
In the second, Wheeler gave Unioto a 2-0 lead before a service ace from the senior made it a 6-2 ballgame.
The Cavaliers, who fought valiantly all night long with inexperience of their own, battled to make it 6-6. However, Cutright made it an 11-8 count before Wheeler later made it 19-13. Later, with a 22-16 lead, Cox served two consecutive aces before McGlone powered down a kill or the win.
More of the same took place in the third.
Stulley and Cox teamed up to give the Shermans a 5-1 lead before Cutright made it 9-4. An ace from Cox started an 8-1 service run and extended the advantage to 15-5. Coleman later made it 20-9 with an ace before the Shermans held off a late rally for a match-clinching 25-17 win.
Unofficially, Wheeler led Unioto with 10 kills and two blocks while McGlone added three kills. Cox had four kills, three blocks and three aces while Stulley and Cutright totaled eight and four kills, respectively.
Chillicothe was led by Maleah Oney with 10 kills and 11 digs while Olivia Beatty added five kills. Johanna Crawford also helped out with 18 assists while Morgan Daniels finished with a team-high 21 digs.
The Cavaliers get back to it on Saturday at the Westerville North Invite while Unioto hosts Huntington in SVC action the same night.
“We have to be fresh at the net,” Kellough said. “[Huntington’s] biggest thing is their offense. We have to be ready and prepared for [Allison] Basye at the net and do whatever we have to do to go out there and make sure we’re shutting her down. Our defense is solid. So if we can get a block in the front, it doesn’t matter if we don’t get a touch because our defense is going to pick that up. I’m fully confident that they’re going to be right there getting that ball up.”