Tuscarora’s volleyball team had a 2-0 lead and a 24-17 advantage in the third set on Wednesday. The Titans were on the verge of the program’s first regional championship.
But getting that 25th and deciding point wasn’t going to be easy.
North Hagerstown, a Class 3A power, pulled to within 24-20. And the Titans turned to senior Caleigh Bernota to stop the Hubs from gaining more momentum.
Bernota’s kill dropped into place for a 25-20 win in the third set, giving the Titans their first regional volleyball crown in school history with a 25-23, 25-20, 25-20 sweep of the Hubs at Tuscarora High.
“Normally, on plays like that, I want to run in the middle for a kill, but their big player up front is a very good blocker,” said Bernota, who had nine kills for the match. “So we decided to pack it in a little bit, which would create a window where a setter would be out of position to make a play.”
Even when North Hagerstown was making its run in that third set, Tuscarora coach Ricardo Vera, in his eighth season as the Titans’ coach, wasn’t worried.
“What a fantastic match,” Vera said. “Both teams were on the top of their games tonight, playing tough. It was just fun to watch. I knew we could come back at the end. They had it all together.”
Tuscarora (14-2) advances to the Class 3A state quarterfinals on Friday. Vera said the Titans would be playing on the road from here on out.
“We were more prepared for North Hagerstown this year than last year,” Tuscarora’s Chelsea Tyler (18 digs, three aces) said. “They beat us in the playoffs last year, so we were looking for revenge this year. We fought for every single point tonight.”
Wednesday’s match had its share of momentum swings. Tuscarora opened up a 5-1 lead in the first set, but North Hagerstown, thanks to some strong play at the net, came back for a 21-18 lead. The Titans then knotted the score at 23.
“We had a very strong start tonight in the first set,” Vera said. “Normally we’re down about four points at the beginning, but not tonight.”
Thanks to a North Hagerstown net violation, Tuscarora took a 24-23 lead and went on to win the first set.
The Hubs went up again in the second set, leading 19-15 before the Titans made a stop.
Tuscarora came back to within 20-18. Two kills by Julia Slivka and one by Anjoli O’Brien made for a 3-0 swing. The Titans wrapped up a 25-20 win.
Tuscarora led by as much as six in the third set.
Misdirection goes a long way when a team is on serve and the person serving is picking her spots where to serve the ball. During her serves, Tyler keeps a good watch on the other side of the net.
“You look for a player behind another player,” she said. “Then you aim for the player in the back. It creates a lot of confusion as to who is going to get the ball on the serve.”
Gianni Blundell had 35 assists, two blocks and three digs for Tuscarora. Tiffany Shell had 12 kills and seven digs. Julia Slivka had 18 digs with nine kills.
“These girls do a lot of studying preparing for matches,” Vera said. “They watch game films, look at stats. They understand each other. Another big thing for us tonight was no errors. This is a very special group of players.”