It was an all-too familiar scene. Bedford girls celebrating and Saline girls consoling each other after an outstanding display of high school volleyball.
Bedford defeated Saline 24-26, 25-19, 26-28, 25-16 and 17-15 to win the regional trophy in front of raucous crowd at Saline High School. It was yet another epic, back-and-forth match for the ages between these two teams. Both teams survived elimination points. Both teams fought back from deficits. But in the end, the Kicking Mules escaped Saline with the trophy.
“You have to give Bedford credit. I thought we had them at 14-13. So give them credit. They are a great team,” Saline coach Kenny Seiler said. “I’m disappointed for our girls. They gave it everything they had. We have been playing so well and we thought we could take this and move forward.”
Despite the loss, Saline finished with its first SEC Red and district championship in more than a decade.
“To say I’m proud of these girls is an understatement. They accomplished so much,” Seiler said.
At no point was Seiler more proud than at the end of the third set. Saline was down 24-18. The Hornets played eight points with their back-to-wall and came back to win 28-26.
Tied at 2 sets, Saline and Bedford set up for the tiebreaker. Olivia Hesse got the (11 kills, 6 blocks) got the Hornets started with a spike from the left side. Saline went up 2-0 after a Bedford shot into the net. Jaycie Harris responded with a kill for Bedford.
Saline looked like they might take control. Liz Howden (3 kills, 4 blocks) and Madison Whitfield (10 kills, 11 blocks) had kills to make it 4-1. After a Bedford shot into the net, Whitfield blocked a Bedford shot to make it 6-1.
Bedford called timeout.
Play resumed with Bedford getting two points. It looked like Saline took a 7-3 lead with an outside attack by Howden, but the ref ruled it out of bounds and the point was taken off the scoreboard. Saline went up 7-4 when the Mules were called for a net violation. It was 8-4 after a Bedford shot went into the mesh. Bedford got a point back but Whitfield responded with a kill to make it 9-5. The Mules picked up two more points, but Olivia Sovitch (10 kills, 14 digs) put Saline up 11-8 with a kill from the left side. Bedford responded with two points and Olivia Vance (6 kills, 4 blocks) got one back with a block. Saline added another point after a long rally to make it 13-10. Bedford strung together three straight points to tie the game at 13. Hesse put the Hornets a point away from a regional championship with a block. But Bedford scored the next two points to go up 15-14 and put Saline’s back against the wall. Howden tied the game at 15 with a kill. Bedford went up 16-15 and then won it when a Saline spike missed the corner and landed out of bounds.
The first four sets were a lot like the dramatic final set. The opening set was back-and-forth. The game was tied at six when the Hornets rattled off four straight points. Bedford responded with their own four-point run to tie the set at 10. For the next part of the set neither team could string together more than two points. Up 19-18, Saline put a five-point run. Vance had a kill. Vance and Whitfield blocked a shot. Sovitch finished the run with two kills. Saline led 24-18.
The Mules put a scare into the Hornets with a six-point run to tie the set, but Saline finished it off with two points to win 26-24.
Payton Cole’s defense (38 kills, 13 service points)) was spectacular throughout the night, but specially in the first set.
Saline started the second set with a 5-0 run, including three aces by Zoey Ammon (40 assists, 12 service points, four aces). Bedford replied with six points. The Hornets replied with four points for a 10-6 lead. The cat-and-mouse game continued. But later in the set, with Saline up 17-6), the Mules got hot. They put together a six-point run to go up 22-17. Saline couldn’t climb back into the game. Bedford won 25-18 to tie the match.
Bedford started to a 3-0 lead in the third set and seemed to have the Hornets playing catchup. The Mules led 12-7, 16-11, 21-15 and 23-16, but every time the Mules seemed poised to pull away, the Hornets battled back. At 24-18, the Mules seemed certain to win the set. The Hornets got the next point. Then Hesse cut the lead to four with a slam from the outside. Hesse and Whitfield had a block to make it 24-21. Whitfield got the Hornets to within two with a tip. Saline added another point on an unreturned serve. Whitfield tied the game at 24 with a kill from the middle. Bedford broke the run with a point. Whitfield replied with another kill. Bedford went up again and Ammon tied the game with at 26 with a tip that caught the Mules off guard. Vance put the Hornet sup 27-26 with a kill. The gym erupted when a Mule shot fell out of bounds and Saline won.
The Hornets led 2-1.
The Mules jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the fourth set. Saline climbed back into the game with a series of blocks by Whitfield and Ammon. The blocks continued. Whitfield, Vance, and Sovitch blocked shots for points as Saline took a 12-9 lead. The Mules replied with a six-point run that turned the tide. The Hornets got to within three at 19-16, but the Mules finished with six straight points for the win.
It was the final match for senior Hornets Olivia Hesse, Zoey Ammon, Olivia Sovitch and Payton Cole. Coach Seiler struggled to articulate the impact they had on the program.
"I don't think I can find the words. They were great players. They worked hard and practiced hard and made sure the younger players understood what this was all about," Seiler said. "They're leaving as SEC and District champs and not a lot of girls can say that."