Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Last season marked the first time since the Frontier Athletic Conference’s inception that Chillicothe wasn’t the league’s volleyball champion.
And the Cavaliers remember all too well what that felt like.
But there will be no encore performance from the Panthers — or anyone else for that matter. The Cavaliers made sure of that with a four-set victory over McClain on Monday to stay undefeated in conference play.
Behind its three seniors — Johanna Crawford, Maleah Oney and Emma Barnes — Chillicothe (14-7, 9-0 FAC) clinched an outright league title with a 25-7, 25-15, 22-25, 25-20 victory, bringing the title back to Hatton Memorial Gymnasium.
“It’s wonderful for our kids. That’s especially after a COVID year, which was just so rough on everybody,” Chillicothe coach Andrew Vitatoe said. “Last year was the first year we didn’t win the FAC. It just shows that you have to work for it. You have to put the time in.”
The senior trio has done just that.
Earlier this year, Crawford logged her 1,000th career assist. Meanwhile, Oney and Barnes have been a magnificent tag team. Oney has punished opponents with big swings at the net while Barnes has proven her worth at every position, showing progress on a nightly basis.
“[Crawford, Oney and Barnes] are just fantastic leaders on this team,” Vitatoe said. “You never have to worry about what they’re doing. If I give them something to work on, I don’t have to worry about it. As a coach, that’s very reassuring. We’re extremely proud of them. They’re going to go on to do some really cool stuff. We will miss them.”
As the final score suggests, Chillicothe had virtually zero problems in the night’s first set. That’s thanks to a set-opening 11-0 run, led by Crawford from the service line. Later, Oney would get her shot to serve and lead a 7-0 run to extend the lead to 19-2 en route to a 25-7 win.
In the second, the Cavaliers took a 3-2 lead and never looked back. Elizabeth Henson logged a kill and a block, making it a 9-5 score, before Barnes produced a 12-6 tally with a kill.
Later, Caroline Corcoran — who was just getting started — made it an 18-8 game with an ace before Chillicothe put away a 25-15 win to go ahead 2-0 in the match.
But McClain (10-10, 5-4 FAC) flipped the script in the third.
Led by Iva Easter, Evelyn Vanzant and Madi Sykes, the Tigers seized a 5-1 lead from the get-go before building a 14-7 edge. That lead held steady at 20-13 before Chillicothe closed the gap with a 7-1 run, cutting the deficit to 21-20.
But the Tigers wouldn’t be denied a victory as they sealed a 25-22 victory.
“The McClain-Chillicothe game is always a really good game,” Vitatoe said. “Defensively, if you look at how much stuff they were picking off the ground tonight. They had done their homework. I appreciate that team and that coaching staff. They’ve done really well this year.”
The Cavaliers bounced back in the fourth, though McClain gave them everything they could handle and then some.
Corcoran led the way, giving Chillicothe leads of 10-8, 19-13 and 23-16. She was effective throughout the night but when it mattered most, she took matters into her own hands to lead her Cavaliers to a match-clinching 25-20 victory.
“She’s a sophomore and it’s great when you have younger players that play at a really high level,” Vitatoe said of Corcoran. “The reason she plays all around is that she’s a really consistent passer, which is what we need back there. Having that younger core group is really important. The growth that Caroline had in the offseason and during the summer was significant.”
Corcoran led Chillicothe offensively with 11 kills alongside 13 digs. Meanwhile, Oney had seven kills, five aces and nine digs, Crawford ended with seven kills, four aces, nine digs and 31 assists, and Morgan Daniels totaled a team-high 27 digs. Henson had eight kills and three blocks and Olivita Beatty chipped in with seven kills, 10 digs and a pair of blocks.
The Cavaliers will now look to Thursday, where they have a chance to put a cap on an undefeated season in league play — which would be their first since the 2016 season and their first-ever while in the FAC.
McClain is back in action on Wednesday, finishing up its FAC slate, at Washington Court House.
“[Hillsboro] has Gracie Dean and she’s got a hot arm. You have to account for her,” Vitatoe said. “It’s a big gym space and sometimes we struggle with that. But we look to have a good game. And then, we got a tournament draw that we feel like we can work with if we get past that first round. We’d host the second round in a sectional final. So that’s our focus these next few days, leading into next week.”