MILFORD — It would be a supremely tall order for any team to take down the Milford Bearcats volleyball team at home in Milford.
The atmosphere in The Barn when near capacity is louder and more intense than just about anywhere in the state and the home-court advantage that provides for Milford is nearly unparalleled.
Pair that with the Bearcats’ excellent play this season and one will find the uniquely hostile environments that faced DeLand-Weldon at the Class 1A Milford Sectional on Monday, which led to a commanding 25-16, 25-18 win for the sectional’s host.
“I think it’s a huge positive for us, for sure,” Milford coach Christy Duis said. “We get really excited to play in front of our home crowd and even during the regular season we had great crowds and great enthusiasm behind us. It definitely works in our favor.”
The Bearcats came out strong from the beginning and rumbled to a quick victory in the opening set before finally running into a bit of an impediment to open set number 2.
The Eagles looked poised to even things out in the early part of the set and even began to neutralize the crowd factor a bit, but a serving rally from Milford senior middle hitter Maya McEwen kicked off an 11-0 Milford run that saw the score swing from a 7-12 deficit to a 18-12 lead and made all the difference for the Bearcats as they advanced to Wednesday’s sectional title game.
“(McEwen) has been solid for us behind the service line all year for us, so when she’s back there I have a lot of confidence in her,” Duis said. “She’s going to get it in and get it into a good spot where we can do something with it. We’ve scored more points with her behind the service line than anyone else all year.
“I felt good about that and was happy to have her there, because that also brings Caley Mowrey back to the front row for us,” she added. “That combination is really great, so I thought ‘We have to do it right here. Now is the time for us to turn it on.’ And that’s what happened.”
During the dramatic swing, the force of the home crowd’s energy reached critical mass and maintained that level until the match’s conclusion.
McEwen and company are as aware of the edge that the friendly atmosphere provides for them, which they will hope to utilize yet again when they take on Illiana Christian with a sectional crown on the line.
“I’m just so excited to be able to keep playing. As a senior, the ability to be able to fight to keep the season alive is great. I love it,” McEwen said. “Coming together as a team and making sure that everyone is on the same page and willing to lay everything on the line until that last point is what got us to this point.
“We have an amazing student section supporting us and cheering us on the entire time. It’s just so awesome,” she said. “I think if we can pass the ball well, everything will follow for us thanks to the energy in the gym. It just makes every point mean so much more when you have that kind of support behind you.”
Caley Mowrey had 16 kills to lead the Bearcats and joined McEwen and Lexy Puetz with a block apiece. Kaylee Warren had 32 assists and Jakki Mowrey recorded 14 digs, while Sam Conley added an ace.
The Bearcats will be back in The Barn Wednesday when they take on Illinois Lutheran in the sectional championship at 6 p.m.