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Tigers three-peat with win over Lincoln

The Hagerstown volleyball team poses with the trophy and ball after claiming its third straight champonship of Class 2A Sectional 41. The Tigers got it Saturday night with a four-set victory over host Cambridge City Lincoln, and will play Western Boone in Saturday’s regional semifinals at Heritage Christian School.

By DAN HARNEY - For The Courier-Times

CAMBRIDGE CITY — The Hagerstown High School volleyball team raised the trophy for Class 2A Sectional 41 Saturday night after defeating host school Lincoln in a hard-fought, four-set championship match 25-22, 25-10, 22-25, 27-25.

The high-flying Tigers, ranked 13th in the final state 2A coaches’ poll, were very familiar with the sectional field. The opponent they faced in every round was a team they had beaten two other times during the regular season.

Centerville in the opening round, Northeastern in the semi-final, and Cambridge City Lincoln in the title match were all hoping that the third time they would pull the upset. It didn’t happen. The never-nervous Tigers carried the trophy back to Hagerstown for the third straight year leaving little doubt that they were the best team in the field.

Hagerstown vs. Northeastern (Semifinal match)

The Tigers sent an early message, jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the first set and used their power game to overwhelm the Knights.

Hagerstown never trailed in any of the three sets, sweeping the match in straight sets 25-14, 25-15, 25-8. Already holding a 2-0 lead in sets, the Tigers flexed their muscles in the third set taking a commanding 22-3 lead before clearing the bench.

With the win, Hagerstown improved to 23-4. Statistical leaders for the Tigers were Jessica Swimm with 20 kills and Regan Tinkle with 10. Hallie Rogers handed out 34 assists. Ashley Vinson had eight digs and five service aces, and Alexis Ellis had four blocks.

The win set up the championship match with Cambridge City Lincoln, who improved to 23-8 by sweeping Winchester 25-8, 25-18, 25-11.

Hagerstown vs. Cambridge City Lincoln (Championship match)

Most area volleyball fans expected Cambridge City and Hagerstown to play for the sectional championship before the season ever started. Both teams worked their way through preliminary round games to arrive for the main event as expected.

Both squads entered the match with 23 wins to their credit and both have an incredibly deep talent pool on their rosters. Throw in the fact that the schools are only ten miles apart and are intense rivals, and fans expected a war. A large vocal crowd turned out in support of their favorite team and neither team disappointed.

The Tigers entered the match ranked higher in the statewide polls, but the Golden Eagles have been ranked higher for most of the season and   had the advantage of playing on their home floor.

Lincoln Head Coach Greg Seidner said before the match that his team needed to be able to attack Hagerstown, taking their big hitters out of their comfort zone. Hagerstown Head Coach Brian Dale said it was critically important to keep the ball in play and not make mistakes.

Neither coach got exactly what they wanted. What they did get was an all-out effort from every player they put on the floor. Set one set the tone for the match. It was a nail-biter from the first serve. The lead changed hands six times and the score was tied on 11 occasions, the last time at 22-22. Regan Tinkle delivered back-to-back-to back kills to give the set to the Tigers at 25-22.

The second set was bizarre. Suddenly, two teams that seemed so evenly matched weren’t. Hagerstown broke from a 2-2 tie to run away from the Eagles. Jessica Swimm had 10 kills in the set as the Tigers cruised to an easy 25-10 win. The final margin was the largest of the set.

The second set had no lasting impact on Lincoln. Hagerstown built small early leads in the third set, but the Eagles would not go away. Laynie Russell slammed the ball into the teeth of the Tiger defense to tie the set at 10-10 and Lincoln became tougher to shake than a bad cold. The set was tied again at 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21 before the Eagles took control.

Cambridge City closed the set on a 4-1 run and sent a message to the Tigers in the process that until you win three sets, you haven’t won anything.

The fourth set was more of the same. Hagerstown did not want to go to a fifth set on the Eagles’ floor, but Lincoln wouldn’t quit. The Tigers took small leads during most of the set, but they couldn’t hold them. Allie Owens for Cambridge City tied the score at 10-10 before the Tigers forged ahead again, eventually taking a 20-15 lead.

The Eagles roared back to tie the match at 23-23 on an Emmie Pugh kill and took the lead for the first time, moving to set point at 24-23 when a ball hit by Hagerstown sailed out of bounds. Alexis Ellis tied the score at 24-24 before the Eagles again went to set point at 25-24.

With their backs against the wall, the Tigers responded with a 3-0 run to win the set 27-25 and close out the match.

Lincoln, who will lose eight seniors, was led statistically by Rachel Merida with 40 assists. Russell had 18 kills and Pugh 10. Russell also led the Eagles in digs with 22, Kami Laymon had 19 digs, and Pugh had 18.

Cambridge City closed its season at 23-9 and Coach Seidner said he was proud of his team. “This team gave it everything they had tonight,” Seidner said. “As a coach, that is all I can ask. I am proud of them.”

Tiger Coach Dale said that he was thrilled to win, but he was nearly speechless. “I can’t explain this entire match,” Dale said. “They are a good team and I did not want to go to a fifth set with them. In the fourth set, we kept fighting. We had to have a side-out to get Regan (Tinkle) back in the front row. Once she went back in, I felt good about our chances.”

Tinkle had 19 kills for the Tigers and Swimm had 21. Hallie Rogers passed out 46 assists. Carli Morris had 15 digs. The Tigers improved to 24-4 on the year, extending their current winning streak to 19 games. They will play at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Heritage Christian Regional against eighth-ranked Western Boone.

Tinkle said that the Tigers have been working for this all year. “Cambridge City is a good team,” Tinkle said. “But we have worked hard for this and with the game on the line I think our intense desire and effort made the difference. We knew that if we lost we were done, and we are not ready to be done.”