Almost every one of the more than 200 points played between the Centennial and Mt. Hebron volleyball teams Wednesday night at Mt. Hebron was a back-and-forth battle.
But the 211th point, won by Mt. Hebron for match point, was a little more decisive than all of the rest.
The Eagles were handcuffed on a serve receive, and sent an overpass sailing back over the net. Mt. Hebron senior middle hitter Marissa Duncan leaped and hammered it back down onto the Centennial half of the court, giving the Vikings (14-3) a 15-13 fifth set victory and the right to host the 3A East regional championship against Glenelg (13-2) Friday at 5 p.m.
"I was expecting it to actually go a little deeper but then it was right on the net and I got so excited because as a middle that's what you dream of," said Duncan, who also had two aces and two blocks in the final set. "That perfect set right on the net. I feel so happy."
Mt. Hebron, which beat Centennial (9-8) for the first time in a decade in mid-October, led by as many as seven points in the first set, and held a late lead of 23-20, but the Eagles rallied to win the opening tilt 25-23 after a five-point run punctuated by an ace by freshman Camryn Allen. The Eagles held onto that momentum to build a 17-12 second set lead, but then it was Mt. Hebron which answered with a 8-1 run — highlighted by two Duncan point blocks — to take control on its way to a 25-20 win to even things up.
"I think we impressed upon them that this is the magic time," said Mt. Hebron coach Michael Moynihan, whose team swept Long Reach and City to get to the regional semifinals. "I knew today wouldn't be three, I knew we'd have to play tough, and I just encouraged them to be focused and driven and I think they bought into that."
The two teams battled to ties at 8-8, 14-14, 15-15, 16-16, 19-19, 20-20 and 21-21 in the third set before the Vikings finally went on a four-point run to win 25-21 and take a 2-1 advantage. That run began with a Meg Ross kill, and ended with a Victoria Ketner ace for game point.
With its back against the wall, Centennial came through with an inspired performance in the fourth set, racing to an 11-8 lead that it would never relinquish on its way to a convincing 25-19 win. Junior Meghan Kelley came through with five kills in the fourth set, while senior Kristen Ritchie added three kills and an ace.
"Since we beat them last time, we were expecting what they were going to bring us and they played phenomenal," Duncan said of Centennial's performance. "It was such a hard game with so much competition. We knew what they were bringing but they brought a whole new game today."
Mt. Hebron pulled away early in the tiebreaking fifth set, taking a 10-6 lead on a kill by Meg Ross, but the resilient Eagles went ahead 11-10 on a five-point run that ended with a kill by captain Jessie Link.
The two teams then traded points to tie the tiebreaking set at 13-all, but after a net violation, the Vikings took service control to set up Duncan's explosive spike for match point.
"We talked about it in practice, physically both teams are really equal, it was going to come down to getting fired up," Moynihan said. "At this point in the season, there are two outcomes: either you lose a match, or you're state champions, there's no in between, there's no tomorrow ... You want to earn it, and we earned it today, we beat a really good team."
Although this season was Centennial's worst in recent memory, the Eagles finished strong, pushing county champion Howard to five sets on Oct. 22 and taking a three-match win streak into the regional semifinals.
"From the beginning of the season we were barely even a team, we couldn't hold even hold it together on the court," Link said. "And then during our last match against Howard we really played them tough and showed what we could play like and I think we demonstrated that for the rest of the season ... We definitely can hold our heads high, we've come a long way, we kept our Centennial name strong."
Glenelg defeated River Hill in five-sets, avenging a loss from Sept. 24, to advance to the regional championship at Mt. Hebron on Friday.
"Getting home court advantage is awesome because we have awesome fans here, we love to see them come out and support us," said Duncan, who totaled five point blocks in the win. "It's going to be a tough match. It's going to be just like this because Glenelg is a tough team."
The Vikings were led offensively by sisters Reeana Richardson (10 kills) and Ravyn Richardson (nine kills). Junior Cammy Case added six kills and four aces, while setter Meg Ross tallied 26 assists and four aces.
Around the league
Glenelg defeated River Hill in another five-set thriller in Clarksville, 13-25, 25-5, 23-25, 25-20, 15-5.
The Gladiators were led by Morgan Perry (22 kills, 11 digs), Sarah Girard (15 kills, 15 digs), Lauren Wright (5 kills, 2 blocks) and Rachael Girard (38 assists, 14 digs, 3 aces).
River Hill (13-3) got strong performances from Sydni Horner and Keana Richards in the season-ending loss.