As the number-one seed in the Div. III East District 1 volleyball tournament, the Hiland Lady Hawks were heavy favorites to win the district crown and move on to regionals.
Thus, when they found themselves staring at a 7-2 deficit in game one of their district final contest with the Ridgewood Generals, it sent a bit of an eerie ripple throughout the Lady Hawks faithful. It also energized the Generals, who were riding an emotional high as Hiland head coach Adri Bryk called time-out to settle the troops.
There was no panic in Bryk’s voice as she addressed the team but rather a coach who wanted her team to remember why they were where they were.
“I told them to take a deep breath,” Bryk said. “The girls know what they are capable of doing. It was something different for them, so we just needed to take a breath, slow down, get our heads on straight and play the way they are capable of playing.”
It was message received for Hiland, and not long after the game was all locked up at 12-12. Ten points later the Lady Hawks had forged a 20-14 advantage, and they cruised to a game-one win.
“I thought we did a nice job of setting in after the slow start,” Bryk said.
Hiland went on to win the game fairly easily and took down Ridgewood in three 25-18, 25-22, 25-12 to captured a district crown.
Game two was a back-and-forth battle as neither team could forge much of a lead, but Hiland’s veteran experience helped them pull out a win that put them in the driver’s seat.
That led to game three, where Hiland (22-3) bolted out to a large lead and never looked back, keeping the pedal down as they bolted to the big game-three win that locked up the match.
While winning in three games was important, Bryk said the way her team went out and took control of game three was what she has been waiting to see.
“We finished the way I want our girls to finish,” Bryk said. “After they gave us a challenge in game two when we had a couple of kids struggle, it was nice to see us respond the way we did. We got out to the early 6-1 lead and turned it on, which is something we have been lacking late in the season.”
Hiland advanced to regional play for the first time since 2007, and Bryk said their contest with the Southeastern Panthers (23-3) is against a team that is athletic and solid with some quality hitters. She went on to say they won’t go beyond this game in looking down the road, knowing every game now becomes extremely meaningful and demands their full attention.
It has been more than a decade since Hiland has reached regionals, and there were some extremely lean years entwined in that time period. However, it has been a meteoric rise for the program, and Bryk said this group has taken great pride in turning this program around 180 degrees.
“They have owned the idea that they have been able to put Hiland volleyball back on the map,” Bryk said. “Two years ago we saw some improvement, and last year was a great season that was cut short in our tournament hopes. Getting to regionals is a big deal for us, but that is far from our ultimate goal. But it has been very fulfilling seeing all of their hard work pay off like this.”
Hiland will square off Thursday, Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. in Logan, Ohio.