Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
DAYTON — For the senior class at South Webster, its legacy was already etched into cement walking into Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
The group won two SOC II titles, three sectional crowns, three straight district championships and the school’s first-ever regional title.
Making the Final 4 was a goal the group has been working towards since it put on a Jeeps uniform.
That goal was accomplished. But a state title just simply wasn’t in the cards.
The Jeeps (25-2) fought valiantly and gave it everything they had, but their season came to an end on Thursday in a Division IV state semifinal with a loss to New Knoxville by a 25-21, 25-11, 14-25, 25-20 final.
“We knew [New Knoxville] was coming from the MAC conference. We knew that it’s good volleyball,” South Webster coach Darcee Claxon said. “I know it’s the best conference for small school volleyball in the state of Ohio. So we knew they were going to be good. No question about it.”
South Webster opened the first set with energy as kills from Faith Maloney, Bri Claxon, Bella Claxon and Natalie Adkins led to an 8-4 lead.
However, New Knoxville (26-2) put the ball at the right arm of Carsyn Henschen, and she responded with four straight kills to tie the game at 10-10.
Back and forth play ensued until the Rangers got a kill from Avery Henschen and an ace from Erica Weadock to take a 20-17 lead.
Although South Webster answered to tie the game at 20-20, the Rangers finished with a 5-1 spree behind kills from Carsyn Henschen and Haley Fledderjohann to take the first set.
“When they started going on a run, obviously, it flustered us,” senior Faith Maloney said. “We’re not really used to that. But I think it also had to do with the atmosphere. We were all nervous. Once we had one mistake get to us, we let that happen more.”
Using momentum, New Knoxville jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead in the second. From that point on, the Rangers never took their foot off the gas.
Carsyn Henschen, a 6-foot-2 Duquesne commit, was in on every play, puzzling the Jeeps.
Behind their leader, New Knoxville’s lead swelled from 8-2 to double digits at 19-9 before the Rangers closed out a dominant 25-11 win.
However, South Webster answered back in the third with true determination and grit as only a champion could do.
But the Jeeps had an answer.
Tied at 5-5 in the third, following a kill from Maloney, the Jeeps’ senior went back to the service line and ripped an ace to give the Jeeps the lead … and the rout was on.
SW’s communication improved, its movement was fluid, and its passing was on point. That led to hits finding open spots on the floor and a bevy of problems for New Knoxville’s defense.
Whether it was Maloney, Bri Claxon, Bella Claxon, Skylar Zimmerman or Rylee McGraw, everything in the third went the Jeeps’ way as their lead slowly ballooned from 11-6 to 21-9 before pushing the match to a fourth set.
“We just played like we knew how,” Bri Claxon said. “We pursued the ball on defense, we lined our block up and we were in the game. We didn’t want to swept. We knew it could be our last set, so we gave it our all.”
The Jeeps continued to swing and went through Maloney early in the fourth. She registered a pair of kills and a block to help the Jeeps race out to a 7-3 lead.
But a pair of blocks from Carsyn Henschen cut the lead to 7-6 before Bri Claxon answered with two kills to keep the Jeeps ahead at 11-8.
New Knoxville continued to stay the course and weather the storm before answering with a 4-0 run, capped by an ace from Erica Weadock to take a 12-11 lead.
Later tied at 14-14, the Rangers strung together a 6-2 run to take back momentum before holding off a late rally with a 25-20 match-clinching win.
Carysn Henschen led New Knoxville with 30 kills while Avery Henschen had 16 kills and 20 digs. Fledderjohann helped out with seven kills and 17 digs while Ellie Gabel tallied 51 assists and 12 digs.
“We talked about Henschen and a kid with that much talent is going to get kills,” Darcee Claxon said. “The question was how were we going to contain her. We wanted to make sure we were in our defensive position and where we were supposed to be so that when she does hit it, we can play defense. We did find some success in that at times. But she’s still going to get kills, she’s still going to put balls away.”
As for South Webster, Maloney led the troops with 17 kills while Bri Claxon had 16 kills and 16 digs. Graci Claxon added 14 digs and three aces, Bella Claxon had 38 assists and 10 digs, and McGraw and Skylar Zimmerman finished with four kills each.
The Jeeps, who are the first Scioto County team to ever win a set in state tournament play, are forced to say goodbye to Maloney, Bri Claxon, Graci Claxon and Rylee McGraw. Together, that group finished their four-year careers with an overall mark of 83-18.
“I think the hardest part for me is, this last year, everyone on that team I can call my best friend,” senior Rylee McGraw said. “I’ll never put that jersey back on. I think that’s the hardest part.”
NOTE: SOSA will have additional photos and details from the Jeeps’ contest against New Knoxsville.