HERMISTON — The net took a beating Tuesday night and the Hermiston volleyball team was the main suspect. Ball after ball ricocheted back onto the Bulldogs’ side of the court as shoulders, wildly swung arms and even faces caught mesh as well.
But that was during warm ups at the Dawg House in Hermiston.
The Hermiston girls cleaned things up during the Columbia River Conference match with Hood River Valley, but not enough to eat off of as the Eagles capitalized on Bulldog errors to win in five sets 25-22, 12-25, 25-21, 25-22 and 15-10.
Hermiston cruised in the second game 25-12 to tie the match, only committing six errors.
“I think we’re just thinking more as a team aspect instead of individually, playing to win,” middle hitter McKenzie Byrd said of the turnaround. “And we’re also talking, which helps you play as a team.”
But the cohesive unit began to come back apart in the third. More errors kept the match close. The teams were tied at 8-8, 13-13 and 17-17 before Hood River Valley put the match away thanks to a pair of Hermiston service errors.
Down two sets to one, the Bulldogs needed to rally to avoid a fifth straight loss. Hermiston turned to Byrd. The junior started knocking down kills at a torrid pace, tallying six of her total 18 in the frame with help from setter Mykel Liebe. The senior assisted on four of those kills as Hermiston tied it up, the exclamation point coming on a block and kill by Byrd for the 25th point.
All four of her blocks came in the fourth set or later.
But Hood River’s Kaili Duffy was just heating up, too. The senior front liner blocked six shots in the fourth and also picked up six kills. Her dominance carried over into the fifth where the Bulldogs struggled to find an answer for her heavy right hand. Duffy put down four more kills and her team got a leg up from seven Hermiston errors to clinch the victory 15-10.
Duffy finished with a team-high 17 kills and eight blocks, the second number equalled by teammate Tabitha Merten.
The Bulldogs have only managed to beat The Dalles Wahtonka (2-11, 1-6 CRC) in conference play while falling each time to first-place Pendleton and Hood River. Two of three against the Eagles have gone to five sets, though, and both were played in Hermiston.
“I would say Hermiston is definitely our most evenly matched for this league,” said Duffy of the second-place Eagles. “We always come in here with the mindset that we know their crowd is going to jeer at us the whole time but we’re just going to prove them wrong and play our hardest.”
One of the main differences between the Dawgs’ down games versus their victories came from the service line. Liebe in particular reeled off six straight serves in the second set — a Hermiston blowout — and five straight in the fourth when the Dawgs narrowly edged the Eagles.
In the fifth set, Liebe only made it to the back line for one serve.
Liebe said her coaches, knowing her range of serves, would signal what type they wanted at any particular time. She would mix it up on the Eagles, firing rockets or softly dropped bombs that kept Hood River guessing.
And more importantly diving.
“The coaches usually tell you where to serve and I just put it where there’s not players,” she said. “I go out there with the mentality that you’ve got to make it.”
Liebe finished 23-of-23 serving, but the rest of the Bulldogs were at 80 percent with 15 service errors.
Liebe and Shay Kennison provided a solid 1-2 at setter when the offense was working. Liebe had 18 assists and Kennison went for 16.
Hermiston will try again to turn its season around, facing The Dalles Wahtonka on Thursday. Though both previous meetings finished as Bulldog victories, each went the distance to five sets.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.