BIDDEFORD – Maybe, said Ruth Shaw, she was a little hard on Mariah Hebert in 2011.

But Shaw, the volleyball coach at Biddeford High, saw something in Hebert that had yet to be tapped: great potential.

“Beautiful hands,” said Shaw. “Her set, the ball coming off her hands, is so soft. The ball had no spin on it so I knew her hands were right there. I just needed her to come up to the level where she knew how to set up people.

“She had to learn to set someone up, then come back to play defense. She didn’t do that as a junior, and I was always screaming at her from the bench. She listened to that all season long.”

Hebert didn’t mind.

“Yeah, she was on my back for everything,” said Hebert. “And I loved it. I loved being pushed. It helped me reach my potential.”

And how. Hebert, a senior setter for the Tigers, had a dominating season in leading the team to an undefeated regular season and No.1 ranking. She had an amazing 350 assists to help set up one of the most dynamic at-the-net attacks in the state. She also had 56 digs and 47 kills, which is a big number for a setter, and 48 service aces.

Hebert is our selection as the Maine Sunday Telegram volleyball Player of the Year.

“I’ve never seen someone who can lead a team and push them as hard as she pushes them, yet maintain their respect and love,” said Shaw. “They play for her.”

Hebert’s value to the Tigers was never more demonstrated than in the state championship match with Greely, a team the Tigers had beaten twice in the regular season. Greely won the first set and had Biddeford scrambling in the second when Hebert collided with a teammate and crashed head-first into the floor. She left with a concussion and never returned.

Biddeford, spurred on by her loss, won the second set, but Greely took the final two to win the title. The Tigers had only six kills over the final two sets.

“It was hard just watching.” said Hebert, who came back to the Tigers’ bench. “It was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever had, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help the team.”

But, she added, “It was an amazing season. I would take this season again and again if I had the chance.”

Hebert credits much of her success to playing with the Junior Olympic program. “It definitely made me a better player. Playing with girls better than you tends to make you better.”

Kelvin Hasch, Greely’s highly respected coach, said her improvement was obvious. His assistant, Jennifer Bayley, was a Junior Olympics coach.

“Many times I said to (Jenn) maybe we shouldn’t have taught her that,” he said, of Hebert’s setting skills. “Mariah was always able to get to the ball and set it properly.”

“She’s the leader, she gets the girls going,” said Autumn Dube, a Biddeford middle hitter.

And not just on the court. Hebert organized a fund-raiser for breast cancer after learning that a relative had been diagnosed. The team wore pink T-shirts and bandanas, and proceeds from a bake sale went to breast cancer research.

“She surprised me so much,” said Dube. “She became a very good leader.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH