Saline wound up on the wrong end of a thrilling five-set match as MHSAA district play began at Saline High School Monday night.
Saline won the opening sets, 25-15 and 25-19, but the Skyline Eagles soared to victory by taking the final three sets, 25-19, 25-15 and 15-13.
It was a heartbreaking season-ending loss for a Saline team that lost in similar fashion at Skyline two weeks ago. What made it even tougher was that Saline, after losing sets three and four, roared out to leads of 3-1 and 8-4 and then held a 13-12 lead in the tiebreaker.
Skyline hitters Kendall Murray and Olivia Cristian gained momentum as the match went on.
The Hornets opened well. In the first set, after falling behind 1-0, the Hornets fed off great defensive play and built a 6-1 early lead. A short time later, Olivia Vance landed a kill, and after another Saline point, she served an ace for 10-3 lead. At one point, Skyline closed the gap to 19-14. A kill from Kaija Sydlowski started a five-point run that included a kill by Vance and two from Brianna Woods to put the Hornets on the verge. A few moments later, Saline won 25-15 when a Skyline serve went into the net.
The Hornets weren’t as sharp early in the second game, falling behind 4-0. Saline stayed, close, though. Down 12-9, the Hornets stormed back. Woods had three kills and a block as Vance kept the Eagles off balance with tough serves. When the run was over, Saline led 19-12. Late in the set, Skyline went on a four-point run to get within three, but the Hornets finished them off with three straight point.
Set three started like set two. Skyline jumped to a 3-0 advantage. Down 4-2, Saline battled back on the strength of a kill and block by Vance. Saline briefly took a 7-6 lead but spent most of the match down by a point or two. Skyline outside hitter Kendal Murray got better as the night went on. When the Hornets did get a hand on her attempts, the ball seemed to bounce out of bounds. A kill by Hannah Blaney got the Hornets to within two at 18-16, but Syline responded with a three-point run to take a 21-16 lead. They went on to win, 25-19.
Set four went south quickly. Tied at one, Skyline rattled off four straight points. Vance got one back for Saline, but Skyline replied with three. Saline was in an early 8-2 hole.
Late in the match, Saline found some life. A four-point run featured an ace by Ellie Munn and got Saline to within six, at 19-13. Down 24-14, Saline mounted another late charge, which included an ace by Mickaley Monahan and a kill by Vance. But Skyline held on for a 25-17 victory.
A lesser team might have folded under the weight of Skyline’s momentum. But the Hornets came out relaxed and ready to play the tiebreaker. Julia Blaney landed a kill for a 1-0 lead and Julianna Pena served an ace to make it 2-0. Olivia Cristian replied with a kill for Skyline. Sydlowski smashed a kill to give Saline a 3-1 lead. Murray replied with a spike that landed on Saline’s floor. Saline went up 5-2 after a kill by Vance and an error by the Eagles. After another Murray kill, Brianna Woods made it 6-3, Saline, with a kill from the left side. But once again, Murray replied for Skyline.
Saline looked like they might pull away after Skyline sent a ball into the net and Woods drilled a spike into Skyline’s floor. The Hornets led 8-4. But things went wrong for Saline. The Eagles went on a 6-0 run, capped by a couple of thunderous spikes by Cristian. The Eagles led 10-8. After trading points, Saline was down 11-9. Vance found the Skyline floor for a kill. Then a Skyline shot went long, tying to score at 11. Murray put the Eagles up 12-11. But Skyline put a serve into the net, tying the score. Woods gave Saline a 13-12 lead with a spike past the Eagles at the net. The Hornets appeared on the verge of victory, but Murray tied the game with another kill. Two Saline shots fell out bounds and the Eagles won 15-13 to advance to the district semifinals.
It was the final game for Saline seniors Mickaley Monahan, Julianna Pena, Ellie Munn, Haley Blaney, Kathryn Wilkie, Brianna Woods, and Olivia Vance.