Brock Netter, Staff Writer
Southern Ohio Sports Authority is presented by OhioHealth.
CHILLICOTHE — You can’t teach height.
While it’s not the be all, end all on the volleyball court, it plays a huge factor when push comes to shove.
New Lexington’s roster boasted three players over 6-foot tall, led by Jerilynn Koehler, a Cleveland State University commit. So the Panthers’ game plan was simple on Saturday: let Koehler do what she does best.
Unioto did everything it could defensively to thwart that plan, but ultimately, New Lexington had too much firepower at the net and ended the Shermans’ season by a 25-20, 25-17, 25-21 final in a Division II district final at Southeastern High School.
“The kids, overall, did a great job. But you could tell there were definitely a lot of nerves going through them,” Unioto coach Jimmy Hutton said. “This is a new stage being here at a district level and these girls haven’t experienced playing on the stage before. This is where the elite volleyball begins to show. We fell short today, but I’m proud of how we battled.”
Though the Shermans’ 19-6 season is over, one victory it was able to walk away with was junior Abbie Marshall’s 1,000th career assist.
“That’s quite an accomplishment for any player, and Abbie is a special one,” Hutton said. “As a setter, you have to be really athletic since you’re taking the second ball, your footwork has to be just right and you have to have the hands. She brings all those elements to the floor every night. She also served really well and hit the ball nicely. Being that she’s a junior and is back next season, she has a lot more to accomplish.”
Marshall’s moment came in the second set.
But the first was all New Lexington. The Panthers jumped out to a 14-4 lead behind Koehler, Trinity Cook and Abby Wilson at the net. The Shermans showed some fight and managed to cut the lead to 22-17, but the deficit was just too big to overcome.
Nerves began to wear off for Unioto in the second, but it couldn’t figure out how to slow the Panthers down early and dug an 8-3 hole. But that’s when the Shermans found a weakness in the Panthers’ serve receive as Emma Specht ripped a pair of aces to spearhead a 7-0 run, giving Unioto a 10-8 lead.
With the score later knotted at 15-15, the Panthers took advantage of Sherman errors and pieced together a 6-0 run before closing out for a 2-0 advantage.
“Our serve receive got us again today and when that part of the game isn’t as crisp, you can’t attack the ball very well,” Hutton said. “We fought back and settled in about midway through the set, but just couldn’t finish.”
The Shermans remembered that serve receive was a bit troubling for New Lexington, and the trio of Specht, Marshall and Jade Stewart took full advantage early in the third.
Stewart had a kill, then served two aces to put Unioto ahead 6-1. Specht’s ace pushed the lead up to 8-2 before Marshall ripped a pair of her own aces for a 12-6 lead.
However, the Panthers would eventually go on a run. They started setting the ball to Koehler and eventually retook a lead at 16-15.
“We got most of our points when she was in the back row, but she’s just so tall and athletic that you almost can’t stop her,” Hutton said. “I’d set the ball to her every time since she just jumps over blockers every time and the ball just goes straight down. She’s a great player and we stopped her at times, but they fed her when they needed a big point and she delivered.”
The Shermans kept the deficit at one point at 22-21, but the Panthers’ Nora DuPerow hammered a pair of kills to put the game on ice.
Unioto says goodbye to one senior in Sophie Coleman, who was a central part of the the team’s defense all year long and logged her 1,000th career dig earlier this season.
However, that also means the rest of the team is back next fall. So expectations are high and Hutton isn’t wasting anytime getting right back to it once he’s allowed to do so.
“28 days. That’s how long it is until we can go 3-on-1’s and we’ll do that all the way until the very end,” Hutton said. “Paul will work with the setters and I’ll work with the hitters. We’re going full time with it and we’ll be better next season because of it.”