By Brad Morris
It’s been five seasons since the Circleville volleyball team last competed at the district level, but it was difficult to tell that on Tuesday evening.
The Tigers turned in one of their most consistent performances of the season and swept host Miami Trace 25-19, 25-18 and 25-22 in a Division II Southeast District semifinal.
“We came into the match very business-oriented and we knew what we needed to accomplish,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “We played focused, were determined and we put together a strong match to beat a good team like Miami Trace.”
Circleville (22-2) advances to a district final on Saturday against two-time defending champion Sheridan (24-1), which also won its semifinal tilt in three sets against Vinton County. First serve is slated for high noon inside Southeastern High School.
It’ll be the first district final appearance for the Tigers since 2015.
Circleville used well-placed shots and a scrappy effort from its defense to hand former South Central Ohio League rival Miami Trace (18-2) just its second loss to of the season.
Kenzie McConnell and Morgan Blakeman combined for 34 kills and senior setter Jayla Parsons stepped up with seven kills, using a combination of dump shots to vacant spots on the front row or directional attacks to the back corner.
“We knew Miami Trace was tall across the net, so we wanted to stretch them on defense and make them cover more of the floor,” Perkins said. “Jayla really stepped up and had a really solid match.
“She was crafty with the ball, really saw the floor well and made good, quick decisions on those kills.
“Jayla also made good decisions on where to set the ball on offense and ran the show well.”
Perkins felt the Panthers had the most effective triple-block the Tigers have seen so far this season, but complimented McConnell on adjusting to the defense, as the CHS senior finished the evening by putting away 25 kills.
“Miami Trace had the strongest triple-block that we’ve seen all season,” she said. “They were very solid, efficient and also did a nice job of accounting for the tip shot.
“Kenzie made the appropriate adjustments and started hitting a little longer, and that’s what good hitters do.”
This district semifinal tilt featured a pair of champions, as the Tigers claimed the Mid-State League Buckeye Division crown earlier this month and the Panthers reigned for a second-consecutive season atop the Frontier Athletic Conference.
Circleville used a kill and solo block from McConnell sandwiched around an ace courtesy of Blakeman to take an 18-15 lead in the opening set and forced Miami Trace to burn a timeout.
Two more kills courtesy of McConnell and an ace from Chandler Hayes stretched the lead to 23-18, and Parsons closed the set with a quick shot that Miami Trace was unable to return.
The Tigers broke a 15-15 tie in the second set with four-straight points, highlighted by a kill each from McConnell and Parsons sandwiched around a block from Blakeman.
Circleville scored six of the final nine points in the set, finished off by a McConnell kill off the block on set point to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
A pair of cram shots and an ace by Blakeman gave the Tigers a 21-17 lead in the third set.
McConnell hammered down an overpass from the Panthers and Hayes added an ace to help bring the Tigers to match point, which they converted on another kill from McConnell off the block.
Perkins also highlighted the defensive play of for the Tigers for repeatedly extending rallies and forcing the Panthers into a number of hitting errors.
“Our defense was very scrappy, we covered a lot of the floor and kept rallies going to put pressure on Miami Trace,” she said. “We have some very solid hitters, but the backbone of our team is how well the girls communicate, play defense and put pressure on the teams we play.”
Third-seeded Circleville now turns its attention to a district final this weekend against top-seeded Sheridan.
“It’s nice to go into that match coming off a performance like this,” Perkins said. “We played really well together as a team and we need to take that into practice and get ready to face a really good Sheridan team.
“We haven’t been to the district final for a few years, but our girls aren’t satisfied. This is a fun group to be around and they want to keep playing.”
Kills – Kenzie McConnell, 25; Morgan Blakeman, 9; Jayla Parsons, 7
Aces – Chandler Hayes, 2; Morgan Blakeman, 2
Assists – Jayla Parsons, 26
Digs – Kenzie McConnell, 22; Cara Cooper, 17; Chandler Hayes, 15; Morgan Blakeman, 15; Gabby McConnell, 11
Solo Blocks – Kenzie McConnell, 3
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