By Brad Morris
Sustaining momentum in a match has been a battle at times this season for the Circleville volleyball team.
That’s why coach Danielle Perkins was pleased to see the Tigers rally for a second set win on Thursday and then put together a dominating run in the third set on their way to a 25-22, 26-24 and 25-16 win over visiting Liberty Union.
“Our girls played with a lot of heart, determination and overcome that deficit in the second set,” she said. “We’ve had a problem this season of sustaining momentum in the third set when we’re up 2-0. We have a tendency to lollygag around and then have to fight back to win it or go to four sets to win the match.
“I was really pleased with the way the girls fed off the momentum of that second set comeback and really put together a strong effort all the way around in the third set.”
The Tigers (17-2, 11-1) swept the season-series from the Lions (15-5, 10-3), but more importantly clinched at least a share of their first Mid-State League Buckeye Division championship since 2007.
“That’s been our goal all season, because we felt we had the parts and pieces to accomplish that if we played to our potential,” Circleville senior hitter Kenzie McConnell said. “We knew we were playing for a share of the league championship and also have seeding for the tournament ahead of us, so that really motivated us this week to put together some good practices as we look to finish the regular-season on a good note.”
The Lions were on the verge of tying the match at a set apiece following a kill from 6-foot-2 hitter Caroline Berlecamp to give LU set point at 24-21.
Circleville rose to the occasion and denied three consecutive set points, thanks in part to a tip shot from Kenzie McConnell and a sharp serve from the six-foot senior that Liberty Union was unable to return.
A kill by Cara Cooper then gave the Tigers set point that they converted on a double-contact by Liberty Union.
“We knew what was on the line in the second set and we didn’t want to allow them back into the match,” Kenzie McConnell said. “We really dug down as a team and showed the type of heart and fire we have to rally from behind like that to take the second set.”
Circleville was nearly flawless hitting in the third set, converting 17 kills with just two errors.
A Cooper kill following a long rally by the two teams sparked the Tigers on a decisive 15-3 run that featured five kills from Kenzie McConnell and was closed by an ace from her younger sister Gabby.
A kill from Morgan Blakeman off the LU block gave the Tigers match point that Kenzie McConnell converted on a back row kill to seal the match and MSL-Buckeye championship.
“Coach Perkins challenged us to finish the match strong after the second set,” Kenzie McConnell said. “We had that goal of winning the league in our minds and that allowed us to focus and finish the match strong.”
Kenzie McConnell put away an astounding 30 kills in the three sets, five of which came from back row attacks. She also led the Tigers with 21 digs.
“We’re trying to get more girls involved with getting a few touches offensively, along with still being able to use Kenzie hitting out of the back row,” Perkins said. “At the beginning of the season, we weren’t used to it so Kenzie was just putting the ball over the net, but as our setters and her have found where she likes the ball from back there Kenzie is now attacking the shots and giving us another option where we can set to.”
The Tigers will look to secure an outright league championship on Tuesday when they host rival Logan Elm (6-12, 3-7).
“We want to win it outright,” Kenzie McConnell said. “We’ve put the work in to shore up a few things here and there and worked on our middle defense. We want to be the best we can be going into the tournament.”
Kills – Kenzie McConnell, 30; Morgan Blakeman, 10
Assists – Jayla Parsons, 25; Gabby McConnell, 14
Aces – Chandler Hayes, 2
Solo blocks – Kenzie McConnell, 2
Digs – Kenzie McConnell, 21; Cara Cooper, 20; Morgan Blakeman, 19; Gabby McConnell, 15; Jayla Parsons, 15; Chandler Hayes, 11
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