Victory was a little sweeter the second time around for the Mount Hebron volleyball team.
"I wanted this so badly, being a senior," said Mount Hebron's Jen Dohler, who played her usual steady game with six kills and two blocks. "In the morning, I must have woke up 20 different times."
The third-seeded Vikings (16-3) captured their second straight Class 2A state title with a 14-16, 15-6, 16-14, 15-11 victory over top-seeded Liberty Saturday.
The Vikings' final practice the day before the championship match was a mix of anticipation and a touch of sadness that the end was drawing near. The seniors exchanged balloons and flowers as final salutes of gratitude. A few tears were shed.
"I've got five seniors whose main sport is volleyball," said Mount Hebron coach Jeannine McCrumb. "There's nothing for them after this, so Iwas aware that things could get a little emotional."
Adding to the emotion, many Centennial players arrived early at Catonsville Community College to cheer on their archrivals.
As is their wont, the Vikings gave no one much to cheer about in the first game. Senior Angie Kress (nine kills) was the only Mount Hebron player hitting with any authority, as the team surrendered the game's first four points en route to trailing, 14-9. The Vikings fought off five game-points to tie the game at 14, but a block and a kill by Liberty's Kelly Foreman closed them out.
Had anyone from Centennial made eye contact with the Mount Hebron players at this point, they probably would have caught a few winks of reassurance.
"Centennial's our biggest rival," explained Kai Scott. "We know they're going to win, so we have to win,too."
"It's good to know they're here. It's good sportsmanship," said Brooke Christopher.
Scott faulted on her second serve of the second game, but that was about all she and the rest of the Vikings did wrong the rest of the game. Scott, Kress and Christopher each contributed two kills, as the Vikings rolled, 15-6.
Christopher, who missed the first five games of the season with kidney stones, now became a pain to the Lions. She single-handedly wiped out an 8-3 deficit in the third game with three kills and three straight aces. The Vikings almost let a 14-11 lead get away, but a dink by Scott and a kill by Tracy Porter saved a 16-14 win.
Dohler opened the fourth game with an exclamation point, slamming the ball home.
But the Lions refused to go out with a whimper and assumed leads of 8-3 and 11-7. But their hitting suddenly went south, as they committed four errors to allow the Vikings to draw even at 11. From there, kills by Scott, Christopher and Porter won the
game and match, 15-11.
Afterward, the Vikings tried to compare this year's title match with last year's.
"I guess it was a little different last year," said Christopher. "Being a junior, I had some doubts. But this year, I was sure we'd win."
McCrumb seemed to have few doubts as well. But she admitted that the aesthetics of the match left her feeling a little empty.
"I guess what keeps me awake is I want to play well," she said. "I don'tworry so much about wins and losses, but if you play well, you'll usually win. We didn't play all that well today."
They played well enough to earn a tip of the hat from their rivals at Centennial. And the rest of the state, as well.