Melissa Murdza said she and her Mount Hebron volleyball teammates aren't dwelling on their only defeat of the season, a lopsided loss to Centennial 12 days ago.

Judging by the way Hebron has played since then -- with strong serves and more hustle -- the Vikings appear to have lodged that embarrassing three-game defeat somewhere in the back of their minds.

Hebron's 15-5, 15-11, 15-5 blowout of Howard on Thursday is a case in point.

Granted, the Vikings beat the county's unluckiest, most disappointing team. Howard, touted by many coaches in the preseason as a team to watch in the county title race, instead staggered into the Hebron match having lost three straight after a 3-4 start marred by injuries and illness.

Hebron's victory dropped the Lions to 3-8 and all but eliminated them from the 3A playoffs.

The Vikings, meanwhile, are clearly a team on the mend. Thursday they disposed of the demoralized Lions by taking huge leads in each game, thanks mostly to their excellent serving and Howard's poor service return. It took just over an hour for Hebron to improve its record to 10-1.

And the news got better for the Vikings. A few hours later they learned that Glenelg had upset previously unbeaten Centennial in five games, creating the possibility that when Centennial comes to Hebron on Nov. 2 for their regular-season-ending rematch, the two will be playing with an undisputed county title at stake.

Murdza, for one, didn't want to get too caught up on the Centennial loss, a night that saw Hebron fold in the third game in a 15-1 defeat.

"It kind of put it in perspective. Centennial was our first big challenge, the strongest team we had played so far," she said. "I don't know what happened to us. Once we got behind, we started getting down.

That's one thing we've got to work on.

"We're not dwelling on it. But we're working on the mistakes we made."

Hebron had severe problems serving against Centennial but has since corrected them. In their last three matches, the Vikings have served at a 91 percent success rate. Thursday they were 64-for-69 (93 percent). They took advantage of some sloppy Howard returns to record 25 aces -- accounting for more than half of Hebron's points.

The Vikings never trailed, and Murdza, their senior setter, turned in a great game. Besides leading the team with 13 assists, she sparked the Vikings with 11 aces on 22-for-23 serving. Kai Scott, who may have the toughest serve in the league, was 15-for-16 with nine aces. She also led Hebron with four kills.

The Vikings did all of this damage despite an injury to starting hitter Andrea Day, who hurt her ankle in practice Monday and didn't play last week. She is due to return Tuesday against Oakland Mills.

"After losing Andrea and after the lousy practice we had yesterday (Wednesday), I was scared of Howard today," Hebron coach Jeannine McCrumb said. "But we played very well. We probably made more mistakes in the third game than we did in the first two combined."

Hebron wasted no time taking the command with an 8-2 lead in the opening game. Howard kept pace until the score was 11-5, but two aces by Scott sealed the first 15-5 victory. Then, after Howard lost its serve to start the second game, Murdza reeled off seven aces during a 9-0 run that put the game away.

The Lions came to life briefly, making an admirable run under match-point pressure by slicing six points off the Vikings' 14-5 lead, but Hebron then won on a Howard error.

The third game was a replay of the first two. Hebron rolled to an 11-1 lead before finishing off the Lions 15-5. Scott ended the match with her third ace of the game.

"We're having a tough time. Our record stinks to high heaven," said Howard coach Kathy Arvin, who reached deep into her bench in an effort to spark the fading Lions. "I was trying to get something going because nobody was working.

"This is the first time I've had all 14 players here the same day," she said, alluding primarily to injuries that kept senior Bridget Repsher out of the lineup after an illness had sidelined her for the first two weeks of the season.

"I go home and pull my hair out these days," she said. "I'd be happy with them if they'd just play well the rest of the season, get some pride and confidence back. Even though the record doesn't show it, they're pretty good volleyball players."

McCrumb's thoughts drifted back to Centennial and Nov. 2: "I hate to say this, but we're playing every game and approaching every practice as a practice to get ready for Centennial. Our problem with Centennial is more mental than it is talent.

"If we play well and we lose to them, that's OK. But going out there and losing in three the way we did, there's no excuse for that."

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