By Brad Morris
ASHVILLE — Cara Cooper picked the perfect time to get more aggressive at the service line.
The Circleville senior capped a dramatic comeback on Thursday in the opening set with an ace on set point and later served four aces that helped put away the third set and a 29-27, 25-21 and 25-14 Mid-State League Buckeye Division win over host Teays Valley.
“I’ve been working a lot in practice and focusing on being more aggressive serving instead of just trying to get it over the net like I was earlier in the season,” said Cooper, who finished the match with seven aces. “I was aggressive and accurate with my serving, which is the spot I want to be in.”
The Tigers (10-1, 5-1) remain a match behind league-leading Bloom-Carroll (12-1, 6-0) with first-round play slated to finish on Tuesday. Circleville hosts Hamilton Township on Tuesday and then welcomes in Bloom-Carroll two days later to begin the second round.
Teays Valley (5-7, 3-3) came out of the gate strong to take an 18-11 lead in the opening set and later had set point at 24-20.
“Teays Valley played pretty well there in the first set and then I also think some of it is we came out a little overhyped, especially since this is a big rival and a county rivalry match, that we freeze a little bit,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “We had a couple of come to Jesus meetings where I told the girls that if we were going to lose the first set that we at least needed to get some momentum going into the second set.”
The Tigers did much more than that by successfully fighting off five set points.
Morgan Blakeman slammed down a kill to give the Tigers their third set point of the match that Cooper converted with an ace to complete the improbable comeback.
“We don’t like to get into situations like that, but we can at least turn to our heart, our determination and our grit to come back and win when we have our backs against the wall like that,” Cooper said. “It also helps out that we have an experienced team with a lot of girls who are used to playing together. We know we have each other’s back out there.”
The going started to get a little easier in the second set for the Tigers, who only trailed twice at 3-2 and 4-3. Circleville led by as many as five points, but Teays Valley continued to battle and only trailed 23-20 late in the set.
The Tigers closed out the set when Maggie Gibson directed a shot to the right back corner that was followed with a kill on set point courtesy of Morgan Blakeman.
A kill from Baileigh Rieder gave the Vikings their biggest lead in the third set at 13-11. Cooper stepped back to the service line with the Tigers trailing 13-12 and served six consecutive points, including four aces, to give the Tigers an 18-13 lead and force a TV timeout during the run.
“The aces that Cara served were obviously huge, but even if you don’t get an ace a good serve can lead to an easy ball coming back over the net that we can turn into offense with our hitters,” Perkins said. “We were in a good rotation there that we wanted to stay in, so Cara stepping up and serving like that was big to help us take control of the last set.”
Cooper’s service run opened a 13-1 surge by the Tigers to close the set.
Perkins also complimented the play of her back row, led by libero Chandler Hayes and Cooper. The senior duo combined for 49 digs.
“Our defense really picked it up there in the last two sets and it starts with Chandler and Cara being our lifelines, getting the ball to the setter and that allows us to use all the options we have at the net on offense,” she said. “When Chandler and Cara pick it like that, they make things happen overall for our team.”
Teays Valley continues league play on Tuesday at Liberty Union.
The Tigers host an eight-team invitational on Saturday that includes perennial state power Bishop Hartley, Caledonia River Valley, Gallia Academy and Alexander among other schools who will be in attendance.
Cooper discussed what the Tigers need to do this weekend and early next week to prepare for a rematch with Bloom-Carroll.
“We need to work on our consistency, because we put together big spurts but then we also have moments when we fall back,” she said. “We have a tough tournament this weekend, Hamilton Township is solid and then obviously Bloom-Carroll.
“Bloom-Carroll swept us earlier this season. We were missing one of our setters, which hurt us, but we’re going to have to step it up overall and be consistent throughout the entire match.”
Kills — Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 14, Gabby McConnell 12, Maddie Blakeman 4, Cara Cooper 3; Teays Valley — N/A.
Aces — Circleville — Cara Cooper 7, Gabby McConnell 2; Teays Valley — N/A.
Assists — Circleville — Maggie Gibson 16, Gabby McConnell 16; Teays Valley — N/A.
Digs — Circleville — Chandler Hayes 29, Morgan Blakeman 22, Cara Cooper 20, Gabby McConnell 11; Teays Valley — N/A.
Blocks — Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 1; Teays Valley — N/A.
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