VOLLEYBALL: Saline Downs Bedford to Win Its First District Trophy Since 2016.

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Saline defeated Bedford in their own barn to win the MHSAA District 23 volleyball district championship Saturday.

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The Hornets beat the Kicking Mules 25-16, 12-25, 25-18 and 25-18 to win the team's first district trophy since 2016 and the first under the guidance of coach Emileen Palazzolo.

The Hornets now advance to the MHSAA Region 6 tournament at Lincoln High School. Saline opens against Livonia Churchill at 7 p.m.  Trenton and Northville face-off on the other side of the bracket.

"I'm super proud. Bedford always packs the gym. It's very hard to win in Bedford with the atmosphere they have. We had a little part of the match where we fell apart with some miscommunication. But we came back and I love how we finished really strong," coach Palazzolo said. "I'm just proud of all of them. They really wanted to win and they were really scrappy and aggressive."

The Hornets, who won both matches against Bedford this year, started how they hoped, with a convincing 25-16 win.  The second set seesawed back and forth. Anna Hesse had three kills as Saline took a 9-8 lead. From there, however, the Mules took over with seven straight points. Bedford led 15-9 when Maria Laurio's spike ended the run. But the Mules then scored nine straight points for a 24-11 lead. They won 25-12.

Palazzolo said the Hornets had communication and assertiveness issues in the second set. 

"It was communication. And we were hesitant a little bit. As soon as we decided that this is the district finals against Bedford, at Bedford, this is not the time to hesitate - they picked it up and played together as a team," Palazzolo said.

Early in set three, the Hornets were down 2-1 when Liz Vance tied it with a kill. After a Bedford shot fell out of bounds, Saline took a 4-2 lead on a block by Mallory Bohl. The Hornets led 5-2 but the Mules weren't ready to fold, getting to within one at 6-5. Laurio had back-to-back kills to make it 8-5. Saline went up 10-6 on a block by Beth Ann Ford, and then 11-7 on a block by Hesse. The Hornets led 12-7 when Bedford went on a four-point run to cut the gap to one. A kill by Hesse made it 13-11, Saline. Bedford fired off two straight points to tie the game at 13. 

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Tied at 14, Liz Vance mashed the ball into the floor to make it 15-14. Laurio followed with a kill. Saline took a 17-14 lead - a lead they wouldn't give up. On three occasions, Bedford cut the lead to two points.  Up 19-17, Saline scored five straight points to make it 24-17. Hesse had two of the points on a tip and a spike. Mallory Bohl made sealed the set with a kill.

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The fourth set started with a point for Bedford followed by six straight points for Saline. Bohl started the rally with a block. Vance and Laurio scored with spikes and then Megan O'Neil added another with an ace. Ford and Laurio scored with spikes as Saline went up 9-4. Then Laney Burns made it 10-5 with a tip that found the middle of the floor when the Mules were expecting the pass and spike.

Up 10-6, Hesse took over. She had three straight kills to make it 13-6. After a point for Bedford, Saline scored six straight points, with two more kills by Hesse, a block by Bohl, a kill by Vance and an ace by Burns.

Saline led 22-10 when the Mules attempted to mount a comeback. They got to within five points when Laurio ended their run with a kill. After a Bedford point, Burns ended the game with another beautiful tip after a long rally that showed the kind of scrappiness coach Palazzolo was happy to see.

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"Laney Burns was all over the place and she was able to keep our hitters calm and collected," coach Palazzolo said of her junior setter.

At the net, Mallory Bohl and Beth Ann Ford frustrated the Bedford hitters.

"Beth Ann was really strong at the net today. Mallory came back and came in strong, ready to go," Palazzolo said.

At times, Hesse dominated the game from her outside hitting position.

"Anna was able to take the overpasses and kill it on the other side. It's such an enthusiastic spark for our team," Palazzolo said.

Saline managed the district championship despite missing Bohl in the first game and Catherine Flaharty and Lexi Seiler missing the entire tournament. Flaharty and Seiler are expected back in time for Tuesday's contest.

"It's awesome. We have a young team and we've had ups and downs all season with girls out and girls who stepped up at different positions," Palazzolo said. "I just love how we came together under high expectations and a little bit stressful circumstances as a team."

Saline's last district championship came in 2016. That year, the Hornets lost to Bedford in the regional tournament. The Hornets' previous district championship came in 2005. That year, Saline defeated Belleville and Livonia Churchill to win the regional before falling to Bedford in the quarterfinal.

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