Hereford overcame the absence of two key front row players and emerged with a 25-18, 25-20, 25-17 victory over a pesky host Western Tech squad on Wednesday night.
It was the season opener for the Wolverines and the second match for the Bulls, who were swept in their first match to Winters Mill, 3-0, a day earlier.
Last season, the Bulls went 14-0 during the regular season, before falling to Towson in the Baltimore County championship match.
They ended up winning their fourth straight regional championship and lost in the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive year, while finishing 17-2.
The loss to Winters Mill may have ended Hereford’s quest for a second straight unbeaten regular season, but it did come with senior middle hitters McKenna May and Sofie Benson out of the lineup.
Both also missed the Western Tech match, but May is expected to return from a concussion on Friday.
Benson had 12 stitches on her hand and her return is yet to be determined.
That left it up to junior outside hitter Maggie May and sophomore outside hitter Haeven Henderson and freshman middle Shelby Jones to carry to load offensively with senior setter Erica Hilse.
May finished with 14 kills, including seven in the pivotal second set.
Henderson added six kills, despite playing on a tender ankle she aggravated in pre-game warmups.
“We do have some injuries, but they [Western Tech] were better than last year, so it was tougher, but we still pulled it through,” Hilse said.
Last year, the Bulls swept the Wolverines in three sets during the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs.
This time, Hereford built leads in the first two sets, only to see the Wolverines chip away and make it interesting.
In the third set, Hereford rallied after an early deficit.
Hereford led 6-1 in the first set before Western Tech came back with strong serving by senior Emily Badin.
Her ace made it 6-5 and a serve-receive error by the Bulls made it 6-6.
Hereford responded with four straight points, behind solid serving from Hilse.
Her ace force a time out by the Wolverines, but she served out three consecutive points with another ace and the Bulls led 13-6 before the run ended.
Hereford eventually led 20-9, but the Wolverines fought back and made it 21-15, by winning six of the next seven points.
The key to the run was the defensive play of senior libero Carley Boarman, sophomore setter Beatrice Daudelin and senior Emily Badin.
They also go fine play at the net from Brea Thomas, Rachel Durham and Imari Cooper.
Hereford led comfortably, 23-16, but the Wolverines rallied with four consecutive points, making it 23-20.
Badin had a kill on a tip for the 20th point, but Hereford closed out the set with a kill from May.
In the second set, the Bulls raced to an 11-4 lead, before the Wolverines rallied by winning seven of the next eight points and making it 12-11.
One of the key plays during the comeback was a one-handed diving save over the net by Daudelin that led to a hitting error by Hereford and point for Western Tech.
Hereford went on a three-point spurt, keyed by a kill from Henderson, and the Wolverines never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
In the third set, Western Tech led 8-5 after an ace by Durham and tip for a kill from Thomas.
Hereford responded by winning the next six points and taking an 11-8 lead.
During the run, the Bulls won a point following a hard-driving hit by May that was deflected high off the ceiling and redirected to the other side of the court.
Hereford won the point, but Western Tech had three players, Daudelin, Boarman and Badin, all sprawling on the floor trying to keep the ball in play.
“You’ve got to want to play those points because when you play teams that are as good as or better than you, you can still beat them,” Western Tech coach Eric Jett said. “You’ve got to keep that mentality up, we want to play good points, we want to play long points. They won the two long rallies and that’s okay, we want to play 100 of those.”
Hereford coach Dave Shreiner was just happy the Wolverines didn’t win a set.
“It was a good match for us, but I knew we didn’t want to give up a game,” Schreiner said. “We give them one game and then they really get some momentum. Bad things happen in volleyball when you give up a game. We learned that last year in the county championship when we were up 2-0 on Towson.”
Hereford pulled away in the third set, thanks to aggressive serving from Henderson (two aces) and Hilse, who closed the match with an ace.
Shreiner was pleased with his team overcoming adversity, but expects improvement.
“It seemed like every time we would get a little run going, we would make a mistake, like a serving error or not calling the ball, just simple things and you can’t do that,” Shreiner said.
The coach was impressed with the Wolverines defense.
“They were excellent and they were fantastic covering the floor,” he said. “Their libero [Boarman] was very good and then I saw three girls dive on the floor, so he’s got them playing hard and playing well and buying into what he does.”
Jett is please to see his team’s skill level rise so early in the season.
“What we try to do is play our best in November, and this team has a little more talent than most that we’ve had, so the goal is don’t wait three weeks to realize that when you are playing against teams that are fairly good,” Jett said. “Touch every ball they hit, that’s the mentality we want to bring into November.”