In front of a packed house at Mt. Hebron, the five-set thriller between two of the top teams in the state – the Vikings and Centennial – on Tuesday night had it all.
But as Mt. Hebron coach Michael Moynihan said afterwards, one team unfortunately had to lose. It just wasn't going to be his.
With the score tied at 13 in the deciding set, it was the Vikings secondary outside hitter, Kaitlin Donovan, who made the biggest plays. She hammered kills on the final two points – both right-handed swings on the left side of the net – to finish off the surging Eagles, 25-23, 25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 15-13, and help Mt. Hebron improve to 4-1 in county and 7-1 overall.
"She can be very up and down on herself and for her in that crucial moment to go up and get those kills were huge for us and huge for her," Moynihan said. "...It's what you expect between two teams like this. It was just a great match.
"The girls just said we're going to battle, we're going to fight. They were talking about – it's not anger, it's passion and intensity. You can't get mad but you have to have passion and intensity and the girls had it."
After Centennial scored three straight points to tie up the final set at 5, but neither team could take hold of the match. In fact, the biggest lead the rest of the set was two – when the Eagles led, 11-9, and then the final point.
"Kaitlin, when she's on, she's on. Nothing can stop her," said Vikings setter Amanda Ross. "I was very confident in setting her on the last point."
Ultimately, though, the difference was that Elayna Williams was on her game for Mt. Hebron. She finished with a match-high 31 kills and was dominant at times, especially in the first two sets when she had 18 kills combined.
"It's not what does she do well, it's what does she not do. And it's nothing," said Moynihan, who added that he hasn't coached a player as talented as Williams in 15 years.
Said Centennial coach Michael Bossom: "Elayna serves well, she plays good defense, she serve receives well, she hits the ball really hard, she places the ball well. We we're able to slow her down, but a really great hitter like that, you hope to slow her down. You're very rarely going to stop her."
Though the match was eventually decided in five, the Vikings had a chance to sweep the Eagles by winning the first two sets.
Mt. Hebron scored the last three points of the opening set, the last of which came on William's 10th kill, to take a 1-0 advantage.
The second set was just as even, but with the score tied at 13, the Vikings picked up their play and won seven of the next nine points and held off a late Eagles surge to take the set and a 2-0 lead.
Centennial (3-2, 5-3), though, rallied in the third behind solid play from Jackie Sterenberg. She had three kills early on, and the Eagles never trailed after the first point and carried that momentum into the fourth. They went on a 9-3 run early and forced Mt. Hebron to call a timeout, where Moynihan was vocal with his team to pick up the intensity.
"Our intensity dropped off," Moynihan said. "We just sort of lost that edge and intensity, but we came back in the fourth set and made it close. I told the girls, 'that's how you play. You play with passion. You can't let another team off the deck – you have to step on them when they're down, and we let them up.'"
Williams responded with three kills and a block in five points to cut the deficit to one, but Centennial reeled off five straight points with Rachel Mathew behind the service line to take a 16-10 lead.
The Vikings rallied and eventually tied the match at 20 and 21. But a pair of errors and a block from Emily Przybyla gave the Eagles set point, and Ava Cho forced the final set with an ace.
"We didn't change anything. ... Overall, I just told them to settle down," Bossom said. "They were very amped up at the first game and they settled down and started playing better and that's kind of what I'm trying to get them to do – play good, solid, technical volleyball."
Donovan finished with 12 kills for Mt. Hebron and Ross added seven. Mathew led Centennial with 13 kills and six aces, while Sterenberg added 10 kills and two aces.
Mt. Hebron (4-1, 7-1) def. Centennial (3-2, 5-3) – 3-2 [25-23, 25-19, 20-25, 22-25, 15-13]
Atholton (4-1, 5-3) def. River Hill (2-3, 2-6) – 3-2 [19-25, 25-14, 22-25, 25-23, 15-12]
Atholton stats: Lisa Zoch (16 kills, 2 assist, 11 digs, .5 blocks), Elise Park (1 kill, 9 digs), Sam Miller (21 kills, 19 digs, 2 aces), Hope Kelly (3 kills, 46 assists, 6 digs), Kelly Simons (4 kills, 1assist, 1 dig, 4 blocks, 2 aces), Brooke Mason (8 kills, 1 assist, 3 digs, 1 block, 1 ace), Nikita Rajarajan (1.5 blocks), Anielka Skibniewska (1 dig)
Howard (5-0, 7-1) def. Glenelg (1-4, 4-4) – 3-0 [25-22, 25-4, 25-15]
Howard stats: Sarah Sweet (9 kills, 6 aces, 5 digs), Anna Jezerski (9 kills), Sara Binkley (6 kills, 1 block), Christina Kundrat (5 kills, 3 blocks, 4 digs), Madison Paige (3 kills, 5 digs), Grace Sweet (6 digs), Julia McKenna (28 assists, 5 digs, 2 aces, 1 block)
Glenelg stats: Kara Crawford (7 kills), Maddie Southern (16 assists 5 digs), Alex Wood (14 digs 2 aces)
Reservoir (5-0, 8-0) def. Long Reach (1-4, 4-5) – 3-0 [25-22, 25-11, 25-11]
Reservoir stats: Sydney Allen (13 kills, 12 digs), Amaka Chukwujekwu (12 kills, 3 blocks, 4 digs), Enitan Omolewa (6 kills), Liz Harvey (4 aces, 4 digs), Pam Chukwujekwu (3 blocks), Brooke Saunderson (28 assists)
Marriotts Ridge (1-4, 4-4) def. Hammond (0-5, 3-5) – 3-0 [25-20, 25-13, 24-14]
Hammond stats: Rebekah Grayson (5 kills, 4 digs), Nailah Melvin (2 kills, 6 digs, 1 ace), Hannah Gorel (3 kills, 9 assists), Kelly Smith (8 digs), Grace Cheney (2 kills, 1 assist, 1 block)
Wilde Lake (4-1, 7-1) def. Oakland Mills (0-5, 3-5) – 3-0 [25-14, 25-12, 26-24]