Mount Hebron's volleyball team needs someone to light a fire.
After winning three straight Class 2A state titles, the young Vikings are playing tentatively. In losses this week to their top two Howard County rivals -- No. 1 Centennial and No. 6 Glenelg -- the third-ranked Vikings didn't play badly. There was just no spark.
"They don't seem to be real naturally competitive, and they're very quiet," said coach Jeannine McCrumb. "When I was picking the team, I didn't take those things into account. I need some firepower."
Junior Kelly Quinn can provide that spark with her powerhouse hitting. Early on, however, Quinn did nothing but set. An &L; All-County outside hitter, Quinn, who started out setting as a freshman, had to fill a void left by graduation.
In Tuesday's marathon match against Glenelg, McCrumb decided to put Quinn back on the net. Now, she splits time as a hitter and setter.
"The problem with Glenelg was we didn't have anyone who was putting the ball down," said McCrumb. "We got more motivated when Kelly started putting the ball down. We were serving and passing well, but we had no power."
The Vikings trailed Glenelg 2-0 before rebounding to take the Gladiators to a fifth game. Glenelg finally pulled out the two-hour, eight-minute match in a 15-13 final game.
Now, McCrumb plans to keep the 6-2 offense with Quinn and junior Lia Kaltreider alternating as both hitters and setters.
The third-year coach said she just needs to find a way to get more balls to Quinn and Kaltreider because they have more power and experience than junior middle hitters Dani Vissers and Kathy Doyle and sophomore outside hitters Amanda Smith and Sarah Eberhart.
Even with four juniors and two sophomores starting, the Vikings have the skills -- they just need to build the confidence and mental toughness. Both broke down in a 15-10, 15-4, 15-13 loss to Centennial Thursday night.
"We're pretty confident with most of our other matches," said co-captain Kaltreider. "We usually play a good match against Centennial, but we usually lose. Even though we were all saying we could beat them, I don't think anyone really believed that. We thought, 'It'll be close, but we can't beat them.' "
Quinn agreed, "We have to think we can do it. Sometimes we have a tendency to doubt ourselves and play safe."
With Thursday's loss, the Vikings' record dropped to 3-2. Besides the two losses, the Vikings have one other strike against them when it comes to the regional playoffs. They moved up to Class 3A this season into a region with Centennial, but that's not even the bad news.
Because their East region includes five Baltimore City schools and No. 4 Broadneck, the Vikings face an uphill battle just to qualify. Those other teams play more Class 4A and 3A schools than Mount Hebron does, giving them an opportunity to amass more points toward qualifying. Last year, despite its perfect record, Centennial barely held on to the top seed although it promptly rolled over regional opponents.
"I told them we cannot afford to throw away any matches, and I don't think we have," said McCrumb.
"But if we end up losing twice to Centennial, we have to win the rest of our matches. If we come out with just three losses, we have a good shot. Then, if we don't make it, we don't make it -- it's just the system and there's nothing you can do about that."
McCrumb's teams have a habit of peaking at the right times. They've won state titles in each of her three years as coach.
"Certainly, I'd rather lose now than later, but peaking at the right time -- I don't know. It all depends on how we are mentally and whether we can stay focused."