Newark, Newark Catholic scene entertaining a volleyball scrimmage

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NEWARK ― Volleyball was literally in the air Thursday in Newark.

The season was still over a week away, but host Wildcats and city rival Newark Catholic squared off in a scrimmage that looked more like a regular-season game at the Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.

“The volleyball players in this community are really talented, and you saw that tonight,” Newark freshman head coach Dava Pinney said after his team secured a 25-game win. -21, 15-25, 25-21, 25-22 in the game. it could have gone either way. “We were really focused and excited,” said main right tackle Avery Reagan. “We played very well and we played well together.”

“It was back and forth all the way,” said dominant NC senior forward Ava Gummer. “We were ready to fight, we went out and competed and did some good things. There was never any disappointment.”

Both teams showed great courage, a good sign for the future. Newark led most of the time winning the first set, but the Green Wave responded with an impressive second set. The Wildcats looked set to run away with the third set, but junior libero Ava Heffley’s serve got NC back before Newark prevailed. The fourth set went to the wire, but the Wildcats pulled it off behind solid net play from junior Bella Martinez and seniors Jaylen Jackson and Jenna Shackleford, who had a late pivot block.

Newark senior Jaylen Jackson reaches for the ball as the Wildcats hosted Newark Catholic for a scrimmage Thursday at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.  Newark won 3-1.

“We spent a lot of time in the weight room with trainer Chris Pallas, and our legs are stronger and we can jump higher, with better technique,” Jackson said. “We are here at 7:00 a.m., 7:30 a.m., working hard.

The Wildcats are blessed with the best overall size they’ve had in years. Shackleford, Martinez, sophomore Ruth Anderson and rookie Makayla Meister are all in the 6-foot range, and Jackson has moved up to around 5-10. They plan to use that to their advantage in the Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division, populated by equally good-sized teams.

“We’re used to our outside hitters in Newark being like 5-7 or 5-8,” said Pinney, a reserve coach for the past few seasons under retired head coach Art Ghiloni.

“We can shoot in all the big ones with a setter,” Jackson said. “It’s exciting,” Reagan said. “We are able to attack now from the back line as well as from the front.”

Applying pressure is also top of mind for new NC head coach Brenden Pence, who led DeSales to a state championship in 2019 before taking a few years off.

“It (the scrum) was good, to see us go up against somebody else and see where the gaps are,” Pence said. “We struggled a bit, but we’re learning a new system and learning where and when to apply pressure on the other side. He moves the ball, and doesn’t always try to hit the ball straight. We want to play chess while the other team is playing checkers.”

Newark Catholic senior Ava Gummer goes high for a spike against Newark in their scrimmage Thursday at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.  The Wildcats won 3-1.

“He’s an incredible addition,” said Gummer, as did fellow schoolmate and hitter Maddie Kauble, who started three years ago. “We have tons of subclasses, so we go a little slower. But he puts us in training situations that we’ve never been in.”

Gummer and Kauble are stepping up to lead a young team that has graduated key seniors from a regional finalist, and a program that has reached the state semifinals the previous two years. “Ava is really creative on offense, and Maddie is a really tough kid,” Pence said.

“We’ll be looking for juniors Kami Diaz and Ava Heffley to provide leadership in the back row, and junior Erin Keck has experience and will help in the middle,” Gummer said. Sophomore basketball players Sophie Peloquin and Fini Kaiser are progressing in the game up front. Junior Kylie Gibson, just five months out from knee surgery, is slowly returning to the lineup.

“She’ll play in the back row and be a big key because she gets stronger and can last longer,” Pence said. “Sophie and Fini are learning a lot, and they will improve by learning the new attack.”

Newark senior Jenna Shackleford receives a serve as the Wildcats hosted Newark Catholic in a scrum Thursday at Jimmy Allen Gymnasium.  Newark won 3-1.

Pinney, who played collegiate at West Virginia State, has been around her Newark players for some time and likes what she sees.

“These are great girls and they are hungry,” she said. “We had success last year, and they still have a taste of it. I had our five seniors as reserves, and they all play in different positions and are leaders in their positions.”

Like Pence at NC, Pinney is looking to put his own mark on Newark’s program.

“We try to step up our attack and try new games at the back,” she said. “We definitely have the talent and the skills. We just have to think as a team and keep the energy going in these OCC games.”

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