HOWARD COUNTY, MD — No Howard County volleyball team has played more sets Mt. Hebron’s 53 this season, and no team has played more five set matches, either.
Being no stranger to quick results, the Vikings have learned throughout the fall what it takes to be that first team to win 15 points in the deciding fifth set. Be the first to win five points, then 10, then finish strong.
“I’m so proud of how the girls have progressed in playing fifth sets,” Mt. Hebron coach Anna Romero said. “We lost a couple fifth sets early in the season, and I think [beating] Centennial [in five sets on Oct. 2] was really a turning point. This team has just started to believe. We’ve starting playing mini games: we’ll play the game to five, then be the first to 10, and by breaking it up they stay more focused, and we’re getting great results.”
On Thursday, the lessons the Vikings learned in their first four five-set matches was put to the test. They rallied from a 2-1 set deficit to force a deciding fifth set at River Hill and then put the pedal down, racing out to a 10-2 lead and holding on to beat the Hawks, 25-15, 20-25, 22-25, 25-17, 15-8.
Four players had six or more kills for Mt. Hebron (8-3 Howard County, 8-6 overall). Morgan Amos led the way with 12, Lana Shahine had nine, and Lizzy Davis and Anna Froehlich had six.
“It makes a huge difference to have a bunch of girls who can put the ball down,” Romero said. “We’ve got a very varied offense, and my setter knows that. We’re able to get 25 to 30 percent of our sets to the middle, which is fantastic, and it really opens things up.”
The Vikings made quick work of the Hawks (6-5, 9-5) in the opening set thanks to its variety of hitters. Four different players had two kills, and a 4-0 run extended the lead to 17-10.
But River Hill put together the game’s longest run in the second set to tie things up. Trailing 18-14, kills from freshman Chikayla Shreenitha (nine kills) and senior Devin Hill (13 kills) cut the deficit to two and Tabitha You had back-to-back aces to knot the score at 18 to spark an 11-2 run to close out the stanza.
The Hawks carried the momentum into the third set and put on an offensive clinic. They scored 19 of their 25 points on kills, including five apiece from sisters Shannon Hill (11 kills), a freshman, and Devin Hill, to take a 2-1 lead.
But the energy didn’t last. Mt. Hebron scored the first three points and then used a 5-0 run to extend its lead to 10-7, and a 6-1 run soon after made it 17-11.
“I was excited for the girls [after the third set],” Paynter said. “But then I saw them get tentative in that fourth game. One of the things we’ve talked about all year long is starting strong and finishing strong. I know it’s a cliché but it something I’ve really tried to get in their mindset.”
In the fifth set, the Vikings dominated. They scored 10 of their first 11 points on a kill, block or ace, and a kill from Amos in the back row ended the match.
“You have to come out strong and we did not start out strong,” Paynter said. “We just made a lot of our errors, got a little bit in our own heads and we couldn’t come back from it.”
Mt. Hebron (8-3 Howard County, 8-6 overall) closes out the regular season winners of five of its last six matches and seven of its last nine after starting the season 1-4. Romero said she loves her team’s chances in the postseason.
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“I love this team,” she said, “and I think we’re poised to make a run.”