By Brad Morris
An anticlimactic Division II Southeast District sectional final on Wednesday between top-seeded Circleville and visiting Jackson yielded a moment of excitement when Gabby McConnell collected her 1,000th career assist during the second set of a 25-17, 25-10 and 25-14 victory.
“I was a little nervous coming into the match knowing that I was close to achieving this and wondering how it was going to go down,” McConnell said. “Reaching 1,000 career assists wasn’t something that I thought was possible coming into the season because I was so far away.”
The Circleville junior setter entered the season with 579 assists, but a torrid pace where she has averaged 5.8 assists per set allowed her to enter a sectional final needing just 14 successful sets to achieve the milestone.
“Sometimes I think a setter can get lost between the hitters having a good kill and a back row player having a good dig, but any hitter will tell you how important getting a good set is for them to put the ball away and be successful,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “Gabby is a pretty consistent setter and she does a nice job of bettering most every ball that she touches.”
McConnell’s achievement is the latest for the Tigers, which can boast of having four players who have earned career accolades.
Cara Cooper surpassed 1,000 digs last season, Morgan Blakeman passed 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs earlier this month and Chandler Hayes also eclipsed 1,000 digs last week.
“I don’t think that’s something a lot of teams can say with having four players who have reached a 1,000 kills, digs or assists,” Perkins said. “That’s a big reason why our team has been pretty successful so far this season, because we have a deep lineup full of athletic girls who are capable of achievements like that.”
The Tigers (20-3) also took care of business in advancing to the district round of the tournament.
Circleville put together an 8-1 run in the opening set to erase an early deficit and force No. 16 seeded Jackson (10-10) to burn its first timeout trailing 13-8.
Morgan Blakeman had a pair of kills during the run and McConnell contributed a kill and an ace.
“We didn’t know what to expect from Jackson early and they did a few things that we haven’t seen much of before,” Perkins observed. “The first part of the opening set was about getting a feel for them, and we played some ping pong back and forth and made a few errors before we got things figured out.”
Morgan Blakeman put down a kill on an overpass to later bring up set point that she converted with her ninth kill of the set to stake the Tigers to an early set lead in the match.
Sydney Lattimer served a pair of aces to help the Tigers get out to a quick 4-0 start in the second set.
Circleville forced Jackson to burn its first timeout of the second set by holding a 12-6 lead and continued to build from there on its way to a 25-10 win capped by a kill from Morgan Blakeman on set point.
“The girls did a nice job of putting their foot on the gas and really played well in the second set,” Perkins said. “They were pretty dominant and that’s what we wanted to see.”
The Tigers turned in a perfect hitting line for the set, putting away 12 kills against no errors.
Back-to-back blocks by McConnell in the third set gave the Tigers a 18-12 lead that Morgan Blakeman helped push to 22-12 with a trio of kills.
Morgan Blakeman served an ace to bring up match point that the Tigers converted on an Ironladies’ hitting error to advance.
The Tigers are slated to travel to Logan High School on Monday for a district semifinal against Unioto (18-5), a four-set winner last night over Athens in its sectional final.
The two teams played early in the season at the Unioto Invitational, with the Tigers rallying for a three-set win.
Circleville will seek to secure a spot in its second district final over the last three seasons.
“We knew coming into our match against Jackson that everyone was back to 0-0 and now we are 1-0 and get to face another 1-0 team in Unioto,” Perkins said. “Our girls know that for us to continue and make things happen that we have to be crisp in our execution and work to better every ball that we touch.”
Circleville match statistics
Kills — Morgan Blakeman 21, Gabby McConnell 10, Maddie Blakeman 6, Cara Cooper 3
Assists — Gabby McConnell 20, Maggie Gibson 15
Aces — Sydney Lattimer 2, Morgan Blakeman 2
Blocks — Gabby McConnell two solo, Kayla Fleck one solo and one assisted
Digs — Cara Cooper 23, Natalie Keaton 20, Sydney Lattimer 17, Morgan Blakeman 13, Gabby McConnell 7
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