MOUNT VERNON — With three big home matches scheduled for this week, the Mount Vernon High School boys volleyball team knew it couldn’t afford to celebrate Tuesday’s monumental win over Hilliard Darby too long or look ahead to Saturday’s matchup with perennial state powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller. The Yellow Jackets had to focus in on the visiting Pickerington North Panthers in an Ohio Capital Conference match.
Mount Vernon did what it had to do and beat the Panthers in four games — 25-18,16-25, 25-15, 25-22. In the process, the Yellow Jackets (7-1, 1-0 OCC) earned a key league victory.
“This was real important because our first goal is to win the OCC,” said Mount Vernon coach Alan Cassell. “We knew Pickerington North would be good. ... I was a little worried the kids might overlook this after playing the tough match on Tuesday and then coming back with Moeller on Saturday, but I don’t think they did. I think the other team was a high quality team.”
“This was solid,” said Mount Vernon’s Roger Melick. “We didn’t play with the same intensity we had Tuesday, but we came out and got the win. This is a tough week, and we are just trying to make it through.”
Things started well and ended well for the Jackets. It was the play in between that left them scratching their heads. In Game 1, Mount Vernon jumped out to a 5-1 lead on to see the Panthers (2-4, 0-1 OCC) pull within one, 11-10. The Jackets responded, however, and pulled ahead with a 9-3 run. Pickerington North fought valiantly, but the two teams traded serves down the stretch until Mount Vernon won, 25-18.
Then the wheels fell off for the Jackets. The Panthers stepped up their play in Game 2, blocking many shots and being more aggressive in general. They jumped out to a 6-1 lead and eventually pushed it to 10-3. The lead grew to 16-8 before coach Cassell called a time out, but Pickerington North would not be denied. The Panthers pushed the lead to 20-9 before Mount Vernon began to shake off whatever was affecting it. The Jackets notched four kills and a block before the game ended, but unfortunately they only traded points with the Panthers and fell, 25-16.
“They put up some good blocks, and some of our are used to that,” coach Cassell said. “We had to adjust to that, and we did try to get a little more aggressive. I think that helped us.”
Mount Vernon continued its strong play in Game 3, and blitzed the Panthers, who began to make several unforced errors. The Jackets’ 4-1 lead grew to a 14-4 advantage before Pickerington North began to make any sort of comeback. The Panthers pulled within eight on two occasions, but strong net play earned Mount Vernon the 25-15 victory.
That put the Panthers on the verge of elimination, and like any cat that is backed into a corner, they came out with claws shown. Mount Vernon led early in Game 4, 4-0, but Pickerington North fought back to take a 10-9 advantage. From that point, the lead traded hands several times before a late Jacket run. A block by Chris Ingersol and Andre Nixon started a 6-0 Mount Vernon run and helped it build a 23-17 lead. The Panthers managed to make it close, outscoring the Jackets, 5-1, but a kill by Chris Omahan ended the contest, 25-22.
“We came out a little tired, and after that first game, I think we took them a little too lightly,” said Mount Vernon senior Chris Hinger. “We let them get up on us and we didn’t play hard. After that, we came back and played pretty good in the last two games.”
Ingersol led Mount Vernon with 23 assists on the night. He also had six kills, five blocks, one dig and one ace; Carter Cassell had 21 assists, 12 kills, five blocks, two digs and one ace; Trey Williams finished with seven kills and five blocks; Hinger added seven kills and two blocks; and Omahan and Ben Bennett each registered five kills. Omahan also had three blocks and two digs, while Bennett added six blocks and an ace. Corey Sheller made eight digs; Nixon had four blocks and a dig; Melick had one kill and one dig; Zach Roden finished with one kill and one block; and Ben Miglin registered a kill.
“We wanted this win and we knew we needed to have it,” said Melick. “I think we made a statement, but we are going to Saturday as the underdog looking for the upset.”
With two wins in their back pocket, the Jackets can now turn their attention to Saturday and a visit by the Cincinnati Moeller Crusaders. Freshmen will begin play at 10 a.m. followed by the junior varsity and varsity.
“I think we are ready,” said coach Cassell. “We are excited to be able to play a team the caliber of Moeller and see where we stand. I consider it a step forward for our program that they want to come here and play us. Now we want to prove we can compete with them.”