Herndon outlasts McLean volleyball in four set thriller

Highlanders can’t win the battle of attrition, lose to Hornets

Final Score: 3-1, Herndon victory

McLean varsity volleyball took on the Herndon Hornets in a rematch of the clash of titans that was the regional championship game of 2021. That match ended with the Hornets, led by regional player of the year Akasha Anderson, defeating the Highlanders in a brutal three set sweep. Although both entities were sporting new looks on the court for their second matchup of the 2022 season—Anderson now plays at Auburn University, and McLean’s former star players Nicole Mallus and Ella Park now play for Cornell and Brown, respectively—neither team lost the fire in their heart to emphatically crush their opponent.

The first set was McLean’s. The Highlanders asserted their home court dominance early on, firing on all cylinders to swing the momentum in their favor and force a quick timeout from the Hornets. Some last-minute personnel issues led to strategic changes from the Highlanders—senior Farah El-Jazzar, typically an outside hitter, spent a lot of time in the center of the offense as a setter for the Highlanders, a key difference in the core of McLean’s offensive plan. Despite the best efforts of Herndon’s star outside hitter, Phoebe Adams, Herndon could not claw its way out of the deficit. Thunderous attacks from McLean sophomore Goldie Woods sealed the deal on the first set, and McLean went into the second frame with elation.

Sophomore Esma Djutovic rises for a hit early in the second set. Her efforts greatly contributed to McLean’s early success. (Tanner Coerr)

Unfortunately for the McLean fans in attendance, not every set would be so simple. Although the Highlanders were able to make some incredible plays, such as when junior Adrienne Long dived to save a surefire Herndon point with merely a single fist, they could not handle the offensive output of the Hornets. The communication issues which have plagued the Highlanders all year continued to haunt them, and their lead slipped through their hands like grains of sand as Herndon closed the set out on an 8-1 run, evening up the set count with a 25-18 victory.

The two sides traded points throughout the beginning of the third set, with neither squad being able to pull away with a huge run until Herndon got away with an 8-0 streak to take an 18-7 lead. Fatigue began to set in on the Highlanders, a byproduct of puzzling lineup decisions which continually kept the same players in to progressively get more winded as fresh-legged athletes sat sedentary on the bench.

“The energy was up for a little bit,” junior defensive specialist Hannah Huang said. “We were almost able to bring it back up [after] we kind of fell apart, but it was a little too late.”

Although McLean was able to break Herndon’s momentum-building streak and make fans sit forward in their seats by bringing it to a 23-17 game, it was not enough, and the Hornets took a 2-1 lead in sets with a 25-18 victory in the third set.

Junior Alice Holoubek prepares to make some defensive specialists have a very unhappy couple of seconds. (Tanner Coerr)

“It’s tough when we’re missing some of our players,” head coach Samantha Stewart said. “It makes the rest of them pretty tired.” 

Throughout the fourth set, McLean was able to stave off the strong serving abilities of Herndon’s libero and take an 18-13 lead, seemingly foreshadowing a do-or-die fifth set. However, the Hornets wanted to end the match right then and there—in the blink of an eye, 18-13 became 20-20. The gym, divided in fandom, held a collective breath every time the ball crossed the net in the final few points. McLean looked to recuperate with a timeout after the score slipped to 22-20 in favor of the Hornets.

Coming out of the quick break, both sides determined that their team would come out victorious, and the match culminated in electric rallies which defined the very nature of volleyball as a sport. Players flew every which way to keep the ball off the hardwood floor, and the volume in the gymnasium made the room the loudest room there has ever been in McLean, Virginia at 10:00 P.M. on a Tuesday night.

In the end, McLean’s effort simply was not enough, and the Hornets were able to escape the chance of a winner-takes-all set with a 25-23 victory in the decisive frame of action, winning the match 3-1. The Highlanders will look to use any silver linings of the tough loss and apply them to succeeding against Yorktown High School in their next game on September 29, where they will continue to keep their energy up.

“[We need to] get better at communicating and talking to each other,” Huang said. “And we need to celebrate harder.”