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Wellsville fitted for ITCL crown

October 10, 2012
By MICHAEL S. BURICH - Assistant Sports Editor , Morning Journal News

WELLSVILLE - Sharing wasn't an option this time around for the Wellsville volleyball team.

The Tigers won their first outright Inter-Tri County League lower tier title by breezing past Leetonia 25-3, 25-9, 25-9 on Tuesday.

In the two previous seasons, the Tigers shared the lower tier crown with Jackson-Milton. Due to the realignment of the tiers in the offseason, Jackson-Milton was sent to the upper tier which it won.

"This is nice," Wellsville coach Dan McKinstry said. "Before we played (second place) Columbiana, I told the kids that if we could beat (the Clippers) we would be two up with three to play. It was a shot to win this by ourselves."

Wellsville is 18-3 and 11-0 in the ITCL lower tier. The Tigers cap the regular season on Thursday at Lowellville. Unlike the upper tier, there are only seven schools that play volleyball in the lower tier. McDonald does not field a volleyball team. Leetonia is 1-17, 1-10.

Tuesday marked a farewell of sorts for three veteran senior members of the Tiger team. McKenna Pierson, Maleya Fultz and Sarah Skinner were all honored in a "Senior Night" ceremony before the match.

Those three players were key members of a team that advanced to regionals in 2010 and have a lot of volleyball experience between them.

"Someone asked me about them before the match," McKinstry said. "We're going to lose a four-year starter in McKenna and two three-year starters in Skinner and Fultz. That's hard to replace. Take last night, we didn't play very well against East Liverpool, but those three are the ones that stepped up and made the plays."

Against Leetonia no heroics were needed. The match was finished in less than an hour and the Bears had trouble returning serves let alone putting together any significant rallies.

The quality of the opponent did not matter for the Tigers.

"We treated this like it was our championship match," Fultz said.

For the Tigers, Skinner led the way with 13 kills and eight aces. Fultz had four aces and three kills. Pierson posted five kills and two aces, while Shayla Hamilton had 26 assists. Jayla Martin provided eight aces and Mystic Beatty had four aces.

The win allowed the Tigers to check off a goal they highlighted at the beginning of the season.

"It feels incredible," Pierson said. "Sharing was not one of our goals at the beginning of the year. We wanted that trophy in our trophy case."

Not having Jackson-Milton around was a bit disappointing for the seniors because of the many go-arounds they've had with the Bluejays from junior high on up.

"It was really different this time," Skinner said. "We wanted to go at them again."

The two could meet again in the Lisbon Division IV sectional-district tournament as the Bluejays are the top seed and Wellsville second. Both would have to advance to the district final for that to happen.

"I'd love to have that opportunity again," Pierson said. "Them moving was a huge change for our tier. But we had some good competition come down in Columbiana."

Pierson does think that there's a stigma out there that the lower tier's best teams aren't as good as the upper tier's best. That's a perception the Tigers want to correct in the tournament.

"Everyone in the upper tier thinks they're so much better," Pierson said. "I think we can give them a run for their money."

The challenge for the Tigers now will be staying healthy. Last season Pierson was injured during the tournaments and that ended up costing the Tigers a chance at a longer run.

McKinstry said Skinner had recently suffered a slight knee injury, but has started moving better.

"We've had a lot of things to deal with this year, but every team goes through it," McKinstry said. "We'll just go back to practice and see if we can get better for the tournament."

Wellsville opens tournament play on Monday against Heritage Christian.

Leetonia hosts Sebring on Thursday.



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