The serve seems like an afterthought in volleyball. A player serves the ball, the other team receives it, and the action starts.
But when one team has difficulty just receiving, it's tough to win -- or even be competitive -- as Plateau Valley found out Friday.
In its homecoming match, Hayden defeated Plateau Valley, 29-27, 25-13, 25-13, exciting coach Becky Burdick so much she had difficulty staying in her folding chair.
"I'm very proud of them," she said. "They wiped all their fears away."
In recent matches, Burdick said she didn't think her team had played with confidence. On Friday, Hayden dug deep to win Game 1 and then dominated behind the service line in games 2 and 3 to cruise to victory in a little more than an hour.
In all, the Tigers served 15 aces, but the Cowboys had difficulty returning many more, consistently bumping the ball over the net to give the Tigers easy chances to set up on offense.
Hayden took advantage, particularly in the final two games, not letting up and playing with an energy and intensity Burdick said she knew the team had.
"A couple weeks ago, we started missing serves, and it was killing us," junior Mariah Doolin said. "In practice, every serve we missed, we had to run a suicide every time."
Needless to say, Doolin added, the concentration went up.
Neither team established much of a rhythm in the first game between bad serves and poor serve receives, but when Hayden and Plateau Valley neared the 20-point mark, each team started scrambling and executing better.
The Tigers had game point at 24-22, but Cowboys sophomore Makala Mumby stepped up with a kill and block to tie the game. Hayden fought off a game point at 25-24 on a good dig from junior Sara Sumerlin. The Tigers eventually pulled away to win 29-27 on senior and homecoming queen Lauren Branstetter's kill and subsequent serve.
Hayden jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead in Game 2 behind better passing and better offensive execution, but Plateau Valley evened things up at 11-11. Sophomore Emily Whiteman's kill pushed Hayden back in the lead, 12-11, and then Doolin stepped behind the service line, bounced the ball a couple of times and didn't leave until the Tigers had a 22-12 lead.
"We've been waiting for this match," Doolin said.
The Tigers went on to win 25-13, a dominating score in rally scoring. In rally scoring, a team scores a point when the opposition makes a mistake regardless of who has the serve.
Hayden got out to a similarly impressive start in the third game, as junior Chelsea Fry lifted her team to a quick 7-0 lead. The Tigers went on to win by an identical 25-13 margin.
Hayden (4-6 overall, 1-3 in league) returns to action at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Grand Valley.