By Brad Morris
Morgan Blakeman can sense the springboard effect that the Circleville volleyball team is experiencing a week after handing Bloom-Carroll its first Mid-State League Buckeye Division loss of the season.
“That win was a gamechanger for us,” the Circleville senior hitter said. “I can feel a different energy and focus during our practices and also in our matches.
“It’s been a springboard for us, because we know that everyone is trying to knock us off now and trying to deny us the league championship. We know we have to come out focused and set the tone from the first serve of the match.”
And that’s what the Tigers did on Thursday as they swept the season series from visiting Logan Elm with a 25-14, 25-23 and 25-15 league win.
“We know at this point that every league win puts us one step closer toward our goal of winning the league championship,” Blakeman said. “That was a spark for us, along with the big crowd that was here tonight. We came out and put our foot on the gas pedal.”
Circleville was efficient offensively, especially in the first and third sets, as it tallied 34 kills against only six errors.
Despite leading the team last week with 19 kills in a four-set win over Bloom-Carroll, Blakeman was frustrated that the defense limited the chances she had to help her team.
The Circleville senior hitter let some of that frustration out on Logan Elm, compiling a season-high 24 kills against just six errors.
“That was more than I expected to have tonight, to be honest,” Blakeman said of the kills. “(Circleville coach Danielle Perkins) has to remind me sometimes that teams are going to focus on me and try to limit what I can do since I was our leading hitter last season.
“We’re a much more balanced team this season and if a team is focusing a lot of their defense on me then that’s going to open up something for one of my teammates to take advantage of. When I get my chances, I have to vary my approach if I am seeing a single, double or triple block and either use the block, tip around it or use the back corner. Our bench and my teammates do a nice job of telling me about the open spots on the floor.”
Gabby McConnell and Cara Cooper followed with 10 kills apiece.
Chandler Hayes opened the match with back-to-back aces that helped the Tigers jump out to an early 6-2 lead, with assistance from a kill each by Morgan and Maddie Blakeman.
Circleville put together a 7-0 run later in the set to open up a 15-5 lead that was powered in part by two kills apiece from McConnell and Morgan Blakeman.
“Morgan battled a few injuries at the start of the season, but she’s climbed out of that hole and is showing people every night the type of player that she is,” Perkins said. “I know she has team goals and personal goals that she wants to achieve, and that is driving her.
“One of the things that stands out to me is if Morgan gets blocked or makes an error hitting wise, she is moving on and continuing to be a force at the net. That’s big.”
Morgan Blakeman slammed a kill off a double block to bring up set point that Maggie Gibson converted with an ace to put the Tigers ahead by a set.
Logan Elm picked up its game in the second set, sparked by four kills courtesy of Claire King, to take an early 6-2 advantage.
“We’re still working on fine tuning a few things and one of those is our play in the second set,” Perkins said. “We came out with a lot of fire in the first set and then we kinda coasted in the second set and that allowed Claire King to get going and start to hurt us.
“We adjusted our block after the second set and that limited what she could do for the rest of the match.”
King had 11 of her team-high 19 kills in the second set.
Circleville responded later in the set to take an 18-15 lead and force Logan Elm to burn a timeout. Natalie Keaton sparked the 5-0 run with a pair of aces and McConnell mixed in two kills.
“Gabby came over at one point early in the match and said she wasn’t playing her best and would pick it up and I told her, ‘What are you talking about?’,” Perkins said. “Gabby had a great stat line in (10) kills, (24) assists and (14 digs). What’s really exciting is Gabby is playing well, but she is just scratching the surface on the potential that she has.”
Logan Elm fought back to force ties at 21, 22 and 23 before a service error gave the Tigers set point at 24-23 that Kayla Fleck sealed with a kill off an overpass.
Circleville used a mini 7-2 run in the third set to open up a 19-12 advantage that was highlighted by a pair of kills apiece by McConnell and Morgan Blakeman.
Back-to-back kills courtesy of Maddie Blakeman eventually brought up match point that Cooper converted with a kill off the block.
The Tigers were also balanced defensively with Morgan Blakeman and Cooper leading the way with 17 digs apiece, Hayes and McConnell each contributed 14 and Maggie Gibson added 13.
“We have an athletic team and as the season goes on, we are using our athletic ability even more and really covering a lot of the floor. We kept some volleys going tonight where it looked like Logan Elm had a point, and that’s big momentum wise,” Perkins said. “Another example of our athleticism is we are making plays on balls where we are out of system.”
Both teams continue league play on Tuesday, as the Tigers (16-2, 9-1) open a two-match road swing against Amanda-Clearcreek and the Braves (7-11, 5-5) host Liberty Union.
With the tournament draw looming next weekend, Perkins knows it is important for the Tigers to continue their strong play into next week and beyond.
“The district vote is coming up pretty soon and we want to put the best resume forward for the other coaches to vote on as we can,” she said. “We are also playing to peak at the right time, so we can have an extended tournament run.
“We want to continue playing with that spark we’ve been playing with lately and tidy up a couple of things here and there.”
Kills — Logan Elm — Claire King 16, Addison Smith 7, Kaitlyn Fultz 7; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 24, Gabby McConnell 10, Cara Cooper 10, Kayla Fleck 5
Aces — Logan Elm — One total; Circleville — Natalie Keaton 4, Chandler Hayes 2.
Assists — Logan Elm — Breanne Williams 21, Hannah Rhoads 5; Circleville — Gabby McConnell 24, Maggie Gibson 18
Blocks — Logan Elm — Ava Neff one solo and one assisted; Circleville — Kayla Fleck two solo.
Digs — Logan Elm — Lynsay VanHoose 18, Claire King 11, Breanne Williams 8, Hannah Rhoads 8, Kennedy Groff 6, Sadie Binkley 6; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 17, Cara Cooper 17, Chandler Hayes 14, Gabby McConnell 14, Maggie Gibson 13
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