By Darryl Warner
Let the games begin! Monday night marked the beginning of the MHSAA volleyball playoffs, beginning with local teams aiming for a shot at a district championship.
The Skyline Eagles still have their sights set for a district championship after pulling off a thrilling five-set victory over the Saline Hornets. For the second time in as many weeks, the Eagles came back from 2-0 set deficit to pull off a stunning victory before a crowd of exciting fans.
Skyline advances to the district semifinals Wednesday at 5 p.m. against Pioneer. The match will be played at Saline High School.
Saline won the two opening sets, 25-15 and 25-19, but Skyline was tenacious in their comeback, winning the last three sets 25-19, 25-15, and 15-13. The first two sets were highlighted by Saline’s stifling defense, until Skyline gained momentum from the hitting off Kendall Murray and Olivia Cristian in the final three sets.
In set one Saline jumped out to a 6-1 lead before Coach Cristian called a timeout to slow down the Hornets. Skyline played aggressively throughout the match but Saline would not relinquish their lead. Skyline would only get within six points of Saline following a Kendall Murray kill, putting the score 19-13. Saline never let up and won game one 25-15 after a Skyline net serve.
Skyline started out set 2 by flying out to a 4-0 lead following a Murray kill down the line. Skyline maintained a slight lead with both teams fighting hard for each point on offense and defense. Saline tied the match at 12-12 following a Saline kill to the center of the court. Saline would then score six consecutive points and open their lead to 18-12. Skyline would try to close the gap as Maddie Sackman served an ace to the back corner closing the score 22-17. With the score 23-19 Coach Cristian called a timeout but Saline would not be rattled and won set two, 25-19.
Skyline would fly out to a 3-0 lead in set 3 following an error by Saline and two kills by Murray. Saline would tie the score at 4-4 following Skylines mishandling of the ball on offense. The score was tied three different times before Skyline opened the lead 17-14, highlighted by kills from Cristian and Murray. Skyline would increase their lead to 21-16 before Saline called timeout. Saline came out of the timeout and scored on a kill, but Skyline went on to win three more points and leading 24-17. With a tip from Murray Skyline won the third set 25-19.
In set four Skyline used their momentum to jump out to an 8-2 lead, highlighted by kills from Cristian, Murray and an ace from Lauren Lee. Sensing the set slipping away early Saline called timeout, but the Eagles would not be fazed and opened the lead to 11-4 will a kill from Sasha Akuezue. Saline would score three more points, but Skyline answered again with kills from Murray and Cristian who scored on a kill and two aces, putting Skyline ahead 16-7. Skyline scored three more points but not before Saline fought back and closed the lead to 19-13. Sensing a comeback Skyline called timeout, which proved to be beneficial for the Eagles as they won set four 25-17 with a kill from Cristian.
With all the marbles on the line both teams entered set 5 with one thing in mind, win and advance. Fans on the other hand were surely divided in their thoughts. Skyline fans, sitting on the edge of their seats, were excited to see another comeback, while Saline fans were hoping to not experience the same fate they experienced at the hands of the Eagles two weeks ago. The noise and excitement of the home crowd rumbled with excitement as Saline jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Skyline would score their first point on a Cristian kill, closing the lead to 2-1. Saline answered with great defense and Murray answered with a kill, Saline still had a 3-2 lead. Saline answered with three consecutive points but Murray scored on a kill and Saline led 6-3. Murray scored on another hit to close the gap at 6-4, but Skyline served in the net and Saline increased their lead to 7-4. Saline scored on a block, increasing their lead to 8-4 and Skyline called timeout. With the 5th set going to15 Skyline had to answer quickly and they did. The cheers of joy and excitement quickly switched to the fans of Skyline as they went on to score four consecutive points and tie the score 8-8.
Saline called timeout but Skyline answered with two consecutive kills by Cristian opening the lead to 10-8. After a failed attempt to dig a kill Saline closed the lead to 10-9. Again, Cristian scored on a kill to open the lead 11-9. Saline not to be out done scored on two kills and tied the score 11-11. Skyline took a one point lead after an error by Saline, but Skyline served in the net and the score was tied again 12-12. Saline would take a 13-12 lead off a kill causing their crowd to scream with excitement, stomp the stadium bleachers, thinking they just averted the Eagles comeback.
Coach Cristian called an important timeout to gather his troops. Murray answered with a kill and the Eagle fans jumped to their feet and yelling at the top of their lungs. With Rin Sato serving and fans on their feet Saline hit to shots out of bounds and Skyline won the 5th set 15-13.