By Brad Morris
It had all the feel of a heavyweight bout with the top two volleyball teams in the Mid-State League Buckeye Division trading blows and not giving an inch.
The fourth set on Thursday featured 19 ties between host Circleville and Bloom-Carroll before the Tigers finally managed to claw their way to a 24-21 lead and match point.
“It was a battle where we just had to keep competing, keep relying on each other and keep playing with a lot of heart, fire and determination,” Circleville junior Gabby McConnell said. “Every ball in that set was just huge.”
Back-to-back blocks by the Bulldogs closed the gap to 24-23. McConnell then came up big by directing a shot toward the left sideline that the Bulldogs were unable to handle, securing match point and a 25-19, 21-25, 25-12 and 25-23 win.
“I saw an opening and the shot went right where it needed to go,” McConnell said. “I give the credit to my teammates, because we talk and communicate a lot together on the floor about where the open spots are and how we want to move the ball around to make us a tougher team to defend.”
The Tigers (14-2, 7-1) avenged a three-set loss to the Bulldogs (13-2, 7-1) late last month and forced a tie atop the league standings with six league matches remaining. Bloom-Carroll entered the match having lost just four sets all season, including only one inside league play.
“We didn’t have our other setter (Maggie Gibson) in that match due to a concussion, so that kinda threw us off and we had a tough night,” McConnell said. “We knew we had to come together and play for each other if we wanted to make a big statement.”
Coincidentally, the Tigers making a big statement inside the league was perhaps made possible with a non-league loss last weekend to state powerhouse Bishop Hartley.
Circleville played top-ranked Hartley (14-0) in the championship match of its annual invitational and became just the third team this season to win a set against the Hawks before falling in three sets.
“That definitely made a difference for us against Bloom-Carroll,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “We watched all of Hartley’s hitters warm-up for that match and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh’. Hartley controlled the first and third sets, but our girls just went out, played loose and really competed well in that second set to win it.
“When you’ve played the best like Hartley, competed with them and beat them in a set then that gives you confidence and lets you know that you can play with anyone.”
Circleville captured early momentum by never trailing in the opening set and eventually built a 19-14 lead that forced Bloom-Carroll to burn its final timeout of the set. Maddie Blakeman closed out the set later on a kill to give the Tigers an early lead.
“We knew that we couldn’t come out here and play point-for-point with Bloom-Carroll,” Perkins said. “We had to get a lead, keep grinding and finish.
“Our girls did a great job of picking each other up in the first set and hitting the ball consistently.”
Bloom-Carroll picked up the energy in the second set and scored six of the first eight points before the Tigers could eventually fight back and take their first lead of the set at 11-10.
Back-to-back CHS hitting errors gave the Bulldogs a 23-21 lead. An ace from Jazlynn Caton and a kill courtesy of Olivia Martin closed out the set and tied the match at 1-1.
Circleville responded with perhaps one of its best sets so far this season.
Trailing early 5-3, the Tigers put together a 16-1 run that featured three kills from McConnell, two apiece by Morgan Blakeman and Cara Cooper and a pair of aces courtesy of Natalie Keaton to take a commanding 19-6 lead. A kill later on set point by Morgan Blakeman closed out the 25-12 set win and gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead entering the fourth and what turned out to be the final set.
“We knew we had to come out and play hard from the get-go, because it would be hard to come back if we dropped two sets in a row to Bloom-Carroll,” Perkins said. “Cara Cooper, one of our seven seniors, kept talking during our huddles, telling our girls that we would push through, and she showed great leadership for the entire match.”
The Tigers were efficient hitting-wise in their three set wins with 46 kills against just 10 errors. Morgan Blakeman led the Tigers with 19 kills, McConnell had 18 and Cooper added 12.
Perkins highlighted the overall night for McConnell, who had just three hitting errors and also contributed 28 assists and 11 digs.
“Bloom-Carroll was gearing its defense toward Morgan Blakeman, which makes sense since she’s been our top hitter the last couple of seasons,” she said. “The difference between last year and this year is we have the ability to be much more balanced hitting wise and Gabby stepped up and took advantage of some openings. Overall, she just had a phenomenal night in every phase of the game.
“Gabby is a quiet player that leads through her play, cares about her teammates and wants to help this team succeed in any way that can.”
Perkins hopes the win earns the Tigers some respect outside of the league. Bloom-Carroll entered the match ranked 15th in the state in Division II, while the Tigers have been unranked all season.”
“Honestly, I don’t feel like we’ve been getting the respect that this team deserves from the coaches in the state poll,” she said. “After taking a set from Hartley and beating Bloom-Carroll, hopefully they will finally take notice of Circleville volleyball and realize that we play some pretty good volleyball.”
Both teams continue league play on Tuesday, as the Tigers travel to Fairfield Union and the Bulldogs host Liberty Union.
Kills — Bloom-Carroll — Evelyn Brown 13, Katie Marshall 11, Macy Lobb 11, Emma Seagraves 9; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 19, Gabby McConnell 18, Cara Cooper 12, Maddie Blakeman 8
Aces — Bloom-Carroll — Three total; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 4, Natalie Keaton 2.
Assists — Bloom-Carroll — Caitlyn Young 43; Circleville — Gabby McConnell 28, Maggie Gibson 20
Blocks — Bloom-Carroll — Macy Lobb 2 solo and 2 assisted; Circleville — Gabby McConnell and Kayla Fleck with one solo block each.
Digs — Bloom-Carroll — McKenna Wiseman 28, Caitlyn Young 19, Jazlynn Caton 15, Macy Lobb 12; Circleville — Chandler Hayes 32, Morgan Blakeman 26, Cara Cooper 23, Natalie Keaton 16, Gabby McConnell 11
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