It was bound to happen. At some point in the Div. IV OHSAA volleyball tournament, a top-ranked team with a stellar record was going to feel the sting of a Hiland Lady Hawks group that lurked menacingly around the .500 mark in the win-loss column.
While Hiland’s record may have been a game under .500 heading into its district semifinal contest with 18-5 Steubenville Catholic Central, the Lady Hawks are a completely different team than the one that started the season.
This one is brimming with confidence, deep and has a number of offensive weapons it can turn to.
On this night, it turned to a freshman, and the freshman played like a senior… a really good senior.
Madison Yoder led the Lady Hawks in kills and added 15 points, leading Hiland to a huge four-game upset of the No. 3-seeded Crusaders.
“This is super-exciting,” Yoder said of the district berth, something that Hiland has not experienced for some time. “I’m just a freshman, so this is a new experience for me, but I love it. I love the pressure and being able to play with my teammates for something worthwhile.”
Hiland jumped out to a 2-0 lead with wins of 25-22 and 25-17. However, Steubenville C.C. didn’t get to where they were in the season by laying down, and came storming back. It led 24-18 and was one point from extending the match, when Yoder took to the service4 line. A couple of aces and some bullet serves later, and the Lady Hawks tied things up at 24.
When Nikki Overholt hammered home a kill, Hiland had a surprising 25-24 lead. However, S.C.C. delivered three straight points, tow of them on unforced Hiland errors, and extended play to a fourth game.
With momentum in their corner, Steubenville C.C. looked to strike again. The game was tied at 5 and then again at 6, but a Madisynn Bryk kill and a pair of aces from Katelyn Hershberger moved Hiland ahead 9-6. Yoder connected on a kill to put Hiland up 12-8, then went to the service line, where she put together another string of four points, with three of those being service aces.
“I just wanted to stay strong and aggressive at the line,” Yoder said of her serving prowess. “Good serves get our team riled up, and gets our confidence up.”
When Bryk and Brooke Stutzman connected for kills, Hiland looked like it was in command, up 18-10. S.C.C. came back to make it 18-13, but Hiland got it going again on a Mya Blochlinger block and another Yoder kill. After an unforced Crusaders error, Hiland was within a point of a district final berth, leading 24-15.
Victory seemed imminent, but it took a good long time to get there. Steubenville refused to go away quietly, and pushed their way back in, thanks to three straight points and three more Hiland errors. Now it was 24-21.
Two of the unforced errors were kills that were hit too long by senior Nikki Overholt. She was looking to make amends, and got it when freshman setter Kimberly Miller gave her a set at the right side of the net. Overholt delivered the goods and drove the Lady Hawks into a district final date.
“It felt pretty awesome, because I had those two misses right before that, and all I wanted was another opportunity to deliver and end the game,” Overholt said.
As for getting up 2-0 in the games column, Overholt said that was a very bog part of the victory.
“Two was amazing, but just getting the one game was huge for momentum,” Overholt said. “It got them down, and gave us a whole lot of confidence.”
Assisting Yoder in the stats column was Overholt, who added 14 kills, while Bryk smacked home 10 winners.
Hiland head coach Adri Bryk said watching her team gain confidence and come together as the season progressed was loads of fun, and she said the coaching staff wasn’t surprised to see their team knock off the higher seed.
“Our confidence is really high right now, and if we can hold on to that, who knows how far we can go,” said Bryk. “Getting on top was really important. So was coming back in game three, even though we didn’t win. We have done that before, and having the other team know we can make a run like that with the game on the line makes it more difficult on them.”
So too did the balanced attack for Hiland, where Stutzman, Amanda Yoder and Blochlinger all added to the kill total.
Asked if they felt like a dangerous .500 team, Bryk said they probably have surprised some teams.
“Compared to the beginning of the year, there is no comparison, we are a completely different team,” Bryk said.