Bulls still seek their first volleyball win in College Park after five tries; Tigers push La Plata but cannot break through

by Nelson Coffin

Hereford’s fifth straight trip to the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum to participate in the state volleyball tournament went pretty much like its other four visits to College Park — not well.

This year, No. 10 Hereford’s slow start in the first set against Oakdale snowballed quickly, allowing the Bears to roll to 19-6, 25-22, 25-12 sweep in a Class 2A state semifinal that also featured No. 6 Rising Sun and La Plata in the other half of the bracket.

Although the Tigers from Cecil County (18-2) made each set close against La Plata, they didn’t have much better luck in the second half of the doubleheader, as the Warriors prevailed, 25-23, 26-24, 25-20.

La Plata and Oakdale will meet for the championship at the same site at noon on Saturday.

“We have been here several times and not moved on,” Hereford coach Dave Schreiner said after the sweep by the Bears from Frederick County. “But I’m glad the seniors had the opportunity to be here and I’m glad the younger girls get to see what they need to do to sneak out of here with a win one day.”

One of the things that the Bulls (16-4) need to improve is out of their control, and that’s a lack of powerhouse teams in the North Region.

After all, the Bulls did not lose a set in beating Eastern Tech, Edmondson and Crossland on the way to reaching the semis.

“If we would have played Towson, it would have helped,” Hereford senior outside hitter McKenna May said about the Generals, who edged Hereford, 3-2, in the county championship match after bowing to the Bulls, 3-2, during the regular season.

Better competition leading to the state tournament would help, Schreiber conceded.

“We weren’t very well prepared,” he added.

Conversely, Oakdale (16-2) had to work hard to get through its region, topping Century, Liberty and Damascus before meeting Hereford.

“We play in a tough league,” Oakdale coach Jim Borsch said. “And they (the Bulls) don’t play in as challenging of a league. We come from a strong area of volleyball.”

Hereford’s serve-receive prowess was severely tested by the Bears’ servers, who consistently produced tough-to-handle floaters that handcuffed the Bulls.

“We focus from Day One being tough servers,” Borsch said. “We try to keep the ball low.”

If that alone wasn’t enough to do Hereford in, the Oakdale hitters were swinging with power when they weren’t using tricky tips to confuse Hereford’s would-be blockers, such as seniors Erica Hilse, McKenna May and Sofie Benson, junior Maggie May, sophomore Haeven Henderson and freshman Shelby Jones, all of whom were averaging a block or more per set this season.

“They stole four or five points that way,” Schreiner said. “Every time we got close, pulled within a point, they’d get a tip. It was a really good strategy for them, and something we have to work on to defend.”

In that pivotal second set, Hereford squandered an early 4-0 advantage before eventually falling behind, 18-11.

The Bulls then went on a 10-3 run on a kill and a tip by Jones, two McKenna May aces and a Benson block during the spree.

A McKenna May kill narrowed the gap to 23-22 before Oakdale closed out the set and. for all intents and purposes, locked up a berth in the final.

Rising Sun did not go away easily in its match against La Plata, tying the opening set as late as 21-21 on a block by senior outside hitter Mackenzie Blevins and pulling to within 24-23 on a kill by freshman outside hitter Sophia Eckerd before the Warriors from Charles County pulled away.

Likewise, the Tigers were very competitive in the middle set, and led, 24-21, until La Plata scored the final five points.

Rising Sun also stayed within striking distance in the final set on a couple of kills by Blevins, who averaged a team-leading 4.2 kills and 5.0 assists per set this season and has committed to play indoor and beach volleyball at Stevenson University.

La Plata knew it was in a battle.

“They fought hard for every point, just like we did,” La Plata senior outside hitter Devin Ruble said.

“Every time we’d get a rally going, they’d come right back at us,” La Plata sophomore middle blocker Jayci Chamberlain added.

Rising Sun senior middle blocker Liz Zatalava said that her team faced a similar problem — a relatively weak region — that hurt Hereford.

“They hit really hard,” she said. “It was a shock to play a team like that (after routing North East, Fallston and Queen Anne’s). But we had our best blocking and passing of the season. No one expected us to get this far, but we showed what we could do.”