TEMPERANCE – In a rollercoaster of a volleyball match, Saline fell to Bedford, 16-25, 25-20, 25-23, 20-25 and 10-15. Bedford advanced to the district final and Saline saw its season end.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Lady Hornets, who started slow and then heated up to take control of the match before Bedford fought back to win.
The sting hurt a little more, because Saline’s playoff came at the hands of Bedford for the fifth straight season.
“I don’t know what to say. The girls fought so hard. They played so well at times. Yet here we are for the fifth year in a row,” Saline coach Kenny Seiler said. “We’ve got to find a way to beat them.”
It was an emotional scene following the loss, as seniors Madison Whitfield, Emily Finkbeiner, Taylor Basler and Liz Howden realized they’d played their final games as Hornets.
“I feel bad for the girls because this is a great group. Led by those four seniors, this is a group of 15 girls who played for each other and supported each other every night,” Seiler said. “You can’t ask for more than they gave us.”
Bedford jumped to leads of 4-1, 6-2 and 9-4 in the tie-breaking set.
“We started a little slow and in that set you can’t really afford a slow set,” Seiler said.
Senior Heidi Fausze was dominant in the tie-breaker, recording six kills, including the match-clinching point.
The Hornets, who were swinging aggressively in sets two and three, seemed to lose energy in the fourth and fifth sets.
Playing in front of a boisterous home crowd, Bedford jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in the first set. The Mules went on a six-point run to build a 19-8 lead. Saline responded with a six-point run that included a tip by Brianna Woods and two kills by Whitfield. The hole was too deep to climb from, but Saline’s offense began to look confident after a slow start.
The second set was a cat-and-mouse affair. After Bedford scored three points to take a 3-2 lead, the Lady Hornets refused to let Bedford get any momentum, giving up runs of just two and three points the rest of the way. The set was tied at seven when Saline went up for good with a kill by Liz Howden. Mickaley Monahan followed with an ace. Saline led 9-7. The Mules stayed close. Leading 11-10, Saline rattled off a four-point run, highlighted by a Woods tip. A little while later, Emily Finkbeiner and Howden each had kills to build an 18-12 lead. Down the stretch, Howden and Whitfield had kills. Olivia Vance finished the set with a kill from the middle-hitter position. Saline won 25-20.
Most of the third set was the same. The two teams battled back and forth but neither team could sustain any long runs. Still, the Lady Hornets seemed to have an edge.
The Hornets opened the set with a kill by Basler. Tied 3-3, Vance had a kill and a block to put Saline up two. Bedford replied with two points to tie the score. Saline went up again with a kill by Howden and a Bedford net violation. The Mules got one point back before Saline gained control with the first extended run of the game. Vance got things started with a kill. Freshman Julia Blaney also had a block and Woods scored with a tip during the five-point run that gave Saline a 12-6 lead.
Saline maintained their advantage for most of the match. Whitfield had a couple more kills. Woods scored on another tip. Up 16-12, Vance had a dominant few minutes at the net. She had a kill and a block as Saline went up 19-12. After a Bedford point she scored another with a block. And after another Bedford point she landed a kill to make it 21-14.
Saline led 25-13 after a block by Basler.
Things were looking good for Saline at this point. Earlier in this match, during a team huddle, Seiler and the coaching staff were all smiles as they grooved to dance music pumped over the speakers.
But from here on out, disappear Hornet swagger seemed to disappear. Bedford went on a six point run to put a scare into the Hornets. Whitfield ended the game with a spike that Bedford couldn’t return. Saline won 25-23.
The Hornets needed one more set to shake that Bedford curse. The Mules would have none of that.
They shot to leads of 6-1 and 10-4 in the fourth set.
With Monahan serving, Saline climbed back in the game. Howden landed a kill to get it started. Vance had two blocks and Julia Blaney had a kill. Saline was within one, at 10-9.
For the next few minutes, Bedford would score a couple points and Saline would come back and tie it up. Howden tied the score at 15 with a kill. Vance tied it at 16 with a kill. But the Hornets couldn’t get over the hump and take the lead.
Bedford regained the lead and then added another point on a kill by Fausze. After a Saline point, Bedford rattled off three more points for a 21-17 lead.
Vance had a kill and Saline picked up another point on a stray Bedford shot to make it 21-19. It was as close as Saline got. After exchanging points, Bedford finished the game with three straight points.
“When we were playing well, our serve receive was great. It gave us two and three options and kept Bedford guessing. When we weren’t playing well, our serve receive was only giving us one option,” Seiler said.
Seiler was also impressed by his team's play at the net for much of the night.
"I think we had eight blocks against Heidi Fausze and she's one of the best volleyball players in the state," Seiler said.
Despite the disappointing loss, Seiler is confident in the future of this team.
“We’ve got some great young players. You saw how great Olivia Vance was at the net. Brianna Woods is coming back. We had a freshman out there (Julia Blaney) making plays and who was completely unfazed by the high pressure situations. Our junior varsity team was 42-2. We’ll be back,” Seiler said.