Keller, Ng lead Jackets past AW in straight sets


WHITEHOUSE — If you love volleyball, you are going to love the power behind a kill shot taken by a 6-foot-5 player, like Perrysburg junior hitter Will Keller.

When he delivers, it hits the floor in a hurry and has to be difficult to defend.

Keller had 10 kills and five blocks to help lead Perrysburg boys volleyball to a 25-18, 25-19, 25-23 sweep over Anthony Wayne at Dick Albaugh Physical Education and Athletic Center Thursday.

Perrysburg is only in its second year playing boys volleyball, and Keller joined the club as soon as the announcement came. He was familier with mens volleyball from the Japanese anime series “Haikyu!!,” which ran from 2014-20.

“I really started watching that and that got me into the sport,” Keller said. “I thought it was kind of cool, and then I heard we were starting a club and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to join.’”

Senior outside hitter Jake Ng, whose sister plays for the Perrysburg girls team, had a team-high 14 kills along with two blocks and an ace, and senior setter/outside hitter Alex Heil put down five kills for the Jackets.

Perrysburg junior middle hitter Paulo Walkosky had four blocks to go with two kills, junior setter Jacob Xiao served five aces and freshman libero Vaughn Zabawa served four aces.

Perrysburg remains perfect on the season at 10-0 and they have only lost three sets all year, while AW falls to 2-3. But beating the Generals did not come easy, even if it was in straight sets.

“Really, both teams are doing a fantastic job,” Perrysburg coach Troy Zabawa said. “I knew this was going to be a battle. Anthony Wayne is a good test for us.

“Our team just keeps showing up every day. I challenge them every day just to get better, and they are getting better. Even if it’s just 1% better they just keep rising to the occasion.”

Even though Keller may be able to put down the hard shots, coach Zabawa says winning in volleyball is much more than that. He’s noticing his players are becoming more fundamentally-strong as the season continues.

“I think we’re just playing a lot smarter volleyball, making sure we are extending the plays so when things aren’t there, we are just being smart with the volleyball, placing it where we should place it, and from there waiting for our turn to rally,” Zabawa said.

Nine of the players on the court, including five AW players and four Perrysburg players, team up at Premier Volleyball Club in the offseason, so they know each other well.

“They are rivals, and all these guys are friends and they like to compete with each other,” AW coach Jeremy Koehler said. “Honestly, it’s a battle every time we play Perrysburg.

“We finished our season last year in a five-set battle that finished a close set, like 19-17. So, it is always a battle against Perrysburg. They bring their A-game, we bring our A-game and let the chips fall where they may.”

In the third set, AW opened a 19-13 lead on an ace by junior Jack Buck, but the Jackets came back to tie, 21-21, on block assists by Keller and Ng.

During the final six points scored by Perrysburg, Ng recorded the last three kills, including the match-point winner, and Keller had two kills and two blocks to close out the match.

Junior Will Horn led AW with a match-high 17 kills, senior Xavier Doyle had three blocks, and sophomore Brody Sonnenberg served six aces.

Unlike the players, who came into both programs with virtually no youth volleyball experience, both coaches have been involved in the sport their entire lives.

Coach Zabawa played club volleyball for the University of Toledo and has continued playing every kind of competitive volleyball he could find, including beach volleyball, until “retiring” and moving to coaching.

Koehler attended high school in New Jersey, where, like lacrosse, boys volleyball has been a sanctioned prep sport for decades.

“We had it all the way through so coming to Ohio was a different situation so I started coaching girls volleyball and then I got in over here because I knew a couple of the boys,” Koehler said.

AW and Perrysburg, which also has a junior varsity team, are still officially club programs and will not compete in the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament, but both coaches hope that happens soon, like maybe even next year.

The number of prep volleyball teams in the Toledo area has more than doubled this year, and two metro Toledo area schools will play in the OHSAA tournament.

Still, Koehler says the players put in the same amount of work as any other sport.

“These kids work hard,” Koehler said. “They put in the time, they put in the effort, they battle, they fight. It’s a battle trying to get into a gym, but all these teams that are playing in the area — we went from four to about 10 in a year.

“It expanded pretty quickly, and that is our hope that it continues to do that and more people get on board because boys volleyball is coming whether they like it or not. It’s coming.”

Coach Zabawa says he is encouraging his players to continue playing in the offseason.

“Absolutely, the travel is helping immensely with the boys. I’m all for it,” coach Zabawa said. “I love seeing the boys going forward and travel and having the opportunity to showcase their skills at different locations and tournaments and getting seen by some of these colleges.”

Keller would like nothing more than to see more youth rally around boys volleyball to the point it becomes as highly regarded as any other Perrysburg sport.

“I really want the program to take off,” Keller said. “I definitely want to see it grow in the future to be something that for years to come becomes a big thing for the younger guys who want to play.”

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