Saline squared off against conference rivals at the SEC Red tournament, held Monday at Pioneer High School.
The Hornets swept through their opponents until they met Bedford in the final match of the day. Saline went 4-1.
Head coach Emileen Palka liked what she saw from her team – especially early on.
“There was good competition here today and we saw a lot of improvement from our team, compared to the last two tournaments at Grand Haven and Brighton,” Palka said. “We played steady at the beginning of the day. Yes, it’s stronger. Yes, it’s tiring. But we have to be stronger and be more aggressive at the end of the day.”
Saline opened by sweeping Huron 25-14 and 25-13. In their second match, the Hornets overcame a challenge from a tough Skyline team to win, 25-21 and 25-22.
“Skyline had a couple of girls who hit the ball hard and got over our blocks. But we beat them in two. We stayed aggressive. We didn’t let them get any long runs,” Palka said.
Saline defeated Pioneer 25-17 and 25-13. Palka thought the team took its foot off the gas a little bit against the Pioneers.
“We can’t make that mistake in this division. There are competitive teams waiting for a chance to get back into the game,” Palka said.
Saline responded with its best match, taking Monroe 25-7 and 25-13.
“We played our game and kept them to around 10 points both games,” Palka said.
That set up the match against Saline’s arch-nemesis – Bedford. The Hornet shave experienced a lot of heartbreak at the feet of the Kicking Mules over the years. Palka wants to take all of the emotion of the Saline-Bedford game.
“In the past, I feel like we’ve been a little too mental, where we were a little too worried about how we thought they’d play and what they’d give us. I want to change that mentality and just be mentally strong and concerned about our game,” Palka said. “So one of our goals this year is to not play with emotion, or to play with steady, consistent emotion, so that we’re always playing our game and keeping the pace on our side.”
The Hornets lost to Bedford 25-23 and 25-16.
“We were right there in the first game, but we have to be better, make smarter choices and make better adjustments as the game goes on,” Palka said
In the first game, Saline built a 6-4 lead after kills by Olivia Vance and Kaija Sydlowski and a block by Vance. But the Mules took over with a six-point run.
Down 14-8, Kathryn Wilkie’s kill put the ball in the hands of Julianna Pena at the service line. Pena served two aces and got the Hornets to within one, at 14-13.
The Hornets spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. Down 16-14, Vance had a kill and then a Bedford shot went long, tying the game at 16. But Bedford responded with two points. It was as close as Saline got. Brianna Woods, Vance and Wilkie had kills down the stretch, but the Hornets couldn’t get over the hump.
The Hornets seemed a little deflated to start the second game and quickly found themselves in a 9-3 hole. With Haley Blaney serving, Saline went on a 4-point run – it’s best of the game – to cut Bedford’s lead to 15-10. But that was as close as Saline got in the second game.