It was an emotional night in the Saline High School gym as the Lady Hornets readied to take on Skyline.
Before the game, the Lady Hornets honored their favorite teachers. Then the team honored their four seniors, Emily Finkbeiner, Madison Whitfield, Tayler Basler and Liz Howden.
And then, before the national anthem played, several Hornets read a brief tribute to Barbara Ann Mack, mother of assistant coach Stephanie DeVee and big supporter of the volleyball program. Mack, 59, who ran the library at Saline High School, passed away Oct. 14.
Sometimes, pregame activities can knock a team off its game. But the Lady Hornets played with focus and fire. They defeated Skyline 25-6, 25-12 and 25-15.
“It was our best performance of the year,” coach Kenny Seiler said.
Saline spent about 15 minutes utterly dominating Skyline. After Skyline middle hitter Kendall Murray helped the Eagles to a solid start, the Hornets went on a run of epic proportions. The opening set was tied at five when the momentum swing. Whitfield, as she often does, got things started with a kill from the middle. She went to the service line and Saline fired off four more points, including two on aces by Whitfield.
Skyline got a point back on a kill by Olivia Christian to make it 10-6. Then the Hornets completely took over. It started with a kill from Haley Blaney. Then Liz Howden found the floor with a spike. The run continued with Brianna Woods serving bullets. Along the way Taylor Basler scored with a tip. Basler and Olivia Vance combined for a couple blocks to make it 20-6. Woods served up and ace. The Hornets steamrolled to a 24-6 lead with Woods at the service line. Vance provided the coup de grace with a spike from the middle. Saline won 25-6.
Coach Seiler rode the hot hand to start the second set. Woods opened the set with an ace. Emily Finkbeiner made a great diving dig to keep the rally going on Saline’s third point. Saline extended its lead to 7-0 on a kill by Vance. The run ended there.
Over the course of two sets, Saline had scored 22 straight points.
“You might see that in seventh grade volleyball. You don’t see that often at the varsity level,” Seiler said.
Seiler wasn’t criticizing Skyline. His remarks were about the stellar play of the Saline girls.
“Especially in the first two sets, we were virtually error free, serving and on the attack. They were great,” Seiler said.
After Skyline’s point, Saline rattled off four more points, including a Vance kill and an ace by Mickaley Monahan.
Howden and Whitfield each had a couple of kills and Julia Blaney served an ace down the stretch as Saline built a 24-12 lead. Whitfield ended the set with a bolt from the middle.
The Hornets weren’t quite as sharp in the third set, but built an early 6-1 lead to take control. Finkbeiner had an ace and Basler a kill early in the set. When Skyline battled back to cut Saline’s lead to 7-6, Whitfield changed the momentum with a kill that began a five-point run. The Eagles got close a couple times, but couldn’t get closer than three points.
Saline won 25-15, closing on a seven point-run.
It wasn’t so much the win that had Seiler feeling good after the game. It was the way they won.
“We avoided the little mistakes and really found a rhythm,” Seiler said.
He credited setter Brianna Woods – she of the 22-point service run -- for a lot of Saline’s success.
“Over the weekend we were setting everything from the middle. Today we really spread it around and it made us much harder to defend,” Seiler said.
The question is, Seiler said, are the girls going to build on what they did Tuesday.
Seiler also spoke about the four seniors who played their final regular season game at home.
“They’re four great girls, each of whom bring something special to this team. The great thing is that they all care for each other and support each other,” Seiler said.
He spoke about Whitfield, the all-star and CMU recruit up for Miss Volleyball.
“She’s not a talker. But she leads with her play on the court,” Seiler said.
On the other hand, Finkbeiner is a talker.
“She’s always talking. This is her team. She’s the vocal leader and a great player in the back row,” Seiler said.
Howden is the demonstrative senior.
“She makes a big play, or the team makes a big play, and she gets excited. And when she gets excited, everyone gets excited,” Seiler said.
And Basler is the consummate worker.
“She’s a great player. But the thing about Basler is she’s the one who always leads the team in the sprints at practice. She’s the one who pushes everyone to work harder,” Seiler said.