By Brad Morris
With just two seniors on the Circleville volleyball team this season, middle hitter Kenzie McConnell knew the the Tigers would need to forge a new identity.
“We have a really young team this season, so we knew we’d have to be more scrappy and defensive minded by covering more of the floor than we have in the past,” she said.
The new look has worked so far for the Tigers, who remained unbeaten on Thursday with a 25-15, 25-16 and 25-21 Mid-State League Buckeye Division win over visiting Bloom-Carroll.
Circleville has been dominant in the early going this season, winning 21 of the 24 sets it has played.
The one hiccup the Tigers continue to work on is maintaining momentum into the third set. All three of their set defeats have come when they were going for match sweeps against Berne Union, Fairfield Union and earlier this week versus Teays Valley.
“We’ve talked about not becoming complacent when we win the first couple of sets and one of the goals we had entering this match was to assert ourselves early and finish the match in three sets,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said.
Circleville was strong in the first two sets hitting, converting 27 kills chances with just six errors.
Strong work at the net by Morgan Blakeman, Zoey Ferguson and Kenzie McConnell, along with an ace by Cara Cooper, gave the Tigers a commanding 16-7 lead in the opening set.
Kenzie McConnell converted a kill to bring up set point and then stepped to the serving line and recorded an ace to give the Tigers their seventh consecutive opening set win.
The second set was closer until the Tigers put together a mini 4-0 run – highlighted by an ace from Gabby McConnell and a kill apiece courtesy of Kenzie McConnell and Ferguson – to take an 18-12 lead and force a Bloom-Carroll timeout.
Bloom-Carroll (0-3, 0-2) led for much of the third set until the Tigers were finally able to wrestle the lead away at 22-21, following back-to-back kills from Kenzie McConnell and senior setter Jayla Parsons.
Two more kills by Kenzie McConnell finally gave the Tigers match point that they converted when the Bulldogs were unable to return an attack from the six-foot senior middle hitter.
“We lost our focus some I felt to begin the third set, so we still need to continue and work on the mental side of things,” Perkins said. “I was happy that we were able to fight through it, rebound and win the set instead of having to go to a fourth set like we did the other night at Teays Valley.”
Kenzie McConnell put away 21 kills, served two aces, recorded a pair of solo blocks and chipped in nine digs to lead the Tigers. Blakeman turned in eight kills and a pair of solo blocks; Ferguson contributed six kills; Parsons dished out 24 assists to go with four kills; Cooper served three aces and paced the defense with 19 digs; Gabby McConnell accounted for 13 digs and Chandler Hayes added 10.
“Since I’m the tallest player on our team, everyone knows where the ball is going,” Kenzie McConnell said. “I move around to different spots and use different angles to hit from. Jayla Parsons and I know what we want to do and then I also have my sister Gabby setting some for me this year, as well.”
“When I go to the back row, Morgan has stepped up in the middle and done a nice job so far this season.”
The Tigers (7-0, 4-0) now turn their attention to a key league match on Tuesday at Liberty Union (7-1, 4-0), with the winner taking sole possession of first.
“We wanted to get on a roll coming out of the gate and we’ve done that so far, but we know we can still clean up some things, both mentally and physically, to take our game to another level,” Kenzie McConnell said. “For us to accomplish the goals we have this season, we need to continue and get better.”
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