By Brad Morris
Coming off its worst week of the season, it appeared early on Tuesday that the Circleville volleyball team had carried that play over into a Mid-State League Buckeye Division match against the visiting Teays Valley Vikings.
“I called a timeout when we were down 10-5 and basically told the girls that they looked stiff, nervous and panicked like we did last week,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “I told them to relax, play hard, be aggressive and everything would be fine.”
The Tigers rallied from a 14-7 deficit with a decisive 18-4 run to claim the opening set on their way to a 25-18, 25-6 and 25-18 win to sweep the season series against the Vikings.
“Our coach told us that we were playing with a losing mindset during that timeout, and we wanted to prove her wrong,” Circleville senior Morgan Blakeman said. “We played stiff through the first half of the opening set, but I think that was more due to it being senior night. We were too amped up and emotional to be honest about it and we just needed to settle down and play our game.”
It was a special night for the Tigers (18-3, 11-2), who honored seniors Morgan Blakeman, Chandler Hayes, Cara Cooper, Maggie Gibson, Natalie Keaton, Allie Jones and Alexis Vanfossen before the match. The Tigers also celebrated a pair of career milestones with Hayes reaching 1,000 digs in the first set and Blakeman doing the same in the final set.
“These seven seniors are a special group to me, because they were freshmen when I became varsity coach and this is the first group that I’ve had for all four years,” Perkins said. “What they’ve done for the program and for me has been very impactful and before this season is over, they are going to set the foundation of what’s to come for Circleville volleyball.
“It was also awesome to celebrate Chandler and Morgan each getting their 1,000th dig. That’s an individual accomplishment, but you saw how much it meant to our whole team because of the comradery our girls have and the tight bond that they have with each other. This is now a 4,000-point team, because Morgan has 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs, Chandler has 1,000 digs and Cara had her 1,000th dig last year. To have three girls on one team who have had 1,000 successful touches like that with the volleyball is pretty special.”
The Tigers rattled off 10 consecutive points, powered primarily by five kills and a solo block from Morgan Blakeman, to rally and take a 17-14 lead.
Back-to-back aces from Morgan Blakeman eventually brought up set point at 24-17 that Gabby McConnell converted with a kill to complete the comeback win.
“We basically just got mad there after the bad start that we had and we wanted to kick butt the rest of the way,” Morgan Blakeman said. “I got into a groove, and we just clicked well as a team and played the way that we are capable of playing.”
The Tigers put together one of their most dominating sets of the season, scoring 16 of the first 20 points in the second set, on their way to a 25-6 rout of the Vikings. Circleville served five aces in the set and also took advantage of four kills by McConnell and three courtesy of Morgan Blakeman.
The Tigers had 14 kills overall during the set against just two hitting errors.
“We put an emphasis on bettering the ball and capitalizing on opportunities,” Perkins said. “When there is a free ball, an open blocker or an open spot on the floor, we need to touch the ball with purpose and get the point.
“That’s what the girls did there in the second set, along with playing pretty scrappy defense.”
Circleville led just 13-12 midway through the third set before a 9-2 run that included eight consecutive service points and three aces courtesy of Hayes, gave the Tigers some breathing room at 22-14.
Perkins is hoping the Tigers learn their lessons from last week, when they lost a set to last-place Amanda-Clearcreek and then dropped a four-set match to Liberty Union that cost them a partial hold on first in the league, going into the tournament next week. The Tigers were voted the top-seed over the weekend by the district’s coaches for the Division II tournament.
Circleville closes league and regular season play first on Thursday at Hamilton Township. Bloom-Carroll (18-3, 11-2) clinched a share of its first league title since 2014 last night with a three-set sweep of Logan Elm and can wrap-up the outright title with a win on Saturday against visiting Fairfield Union.
“I told the girls after our loss to Liberty Union that we are our biggest competition,” she said. “If we get beat from here on, we beat ourselves. It’s that simple.
“We need to come out in every match ready to go and play with a lot of fire. I felt we had one of our best practices of the season on Monday and then we played with a lot of fire from the midway point of the first set until the end of the match tonight.”
Teays Valley (7-14, 4-9) hosts Liberty Union on Thursday to conclude league and regular season competition.
Kills — Teays Valley — N/A; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 15, Gabby McConnell 13, Cara Cooper 5, Maddie Blakeman 5
Aces — Teays Valley — N/A; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 4, Chandler Hayes 4, Natalie Keaton 3.
Assists — Teays Valley — N/A; Circleville — Gabby McConnell 18, Maggie Gibson 14.
Blocks — Teays Valley — N/A; Circleville — Morgan Blakeman 3 solo; Kayla Fleck 1 solo.
Digs — Teays Valley — N/A; Circleville — Cara Cooper 21, Morgan Blakeman 19, Chandler Hayes 18, Gabby McConnell 10, Natalie Keaton 7, Maggie Gibson 7.
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