ROCK FALLS – The Rock Falls Rockets volleyball team has long reflected coach Sheila Mammosser's attitude while on the court: aggressive defense, steady passing and, when available, smart and strong spiking.
It's a recent change in the longtime coach's demeanor that has the Rockets rolling, though.
Rock Falls hit on all cylinders Thursday evening at Tabor Gym, getting contributions from all 15 players on the varsity roster in a 25-12, 25-9 thumping of Winnebago.
Every reserve who got in the match came away with smiles, and the starters were enjoying their view from the bench. That zero-stress environment is what has the Rockets back on track as the 2012 season winds down.
"I've loosened up a lot, and I think that's helped the girls settle in and play better," Mammosser said. "I was hard on them at the beginning of the season, because we weren't meeting expectations. I did a little soul searching and realized I couldn't go out there and play for them, and I'm not as in their face because of it."
One big beneficiary of the lighter touch is freshman Bailey O'Brien. Already a shy, soft-spoken ninth-grader amongst a bevy of talented juniors and seniors, O'Brien struggled at the outset to adjust to starting on the varsity squad and learning a new position.
But a flip-flop of attacking sides between O'Brien and Morgan Mammosser has O'Brien playing a much more natural spot, and she's grown into her role.
"She's coming out of her shell now," coach Mammosser said of O'Brien, "and I love seeing her play the way she's been going. She's mentally tougher – I was hard on her early on, and I think it shook her confidence a little – but she's much more relaxed now. She's going to be a force to be reckoned with the next few years."
It was evident Thursday, as she set the tone for her older teammates with a strong opening set. Five of her nine points came on aces, and she also spiked four kills and stuffed a block.
"When I start off good, I play with a lot more confidence and have more fun," O'Brien said. "Once we got into the flow tonight, everything clicked together."
The Rockets (20-8, 8-2) used a big run in the first set to turn a 5-3 lead into a 17-7 margin, then closed strong with O'Brien at the service line. Her kill earned a sideout and a 19-12 lead, and she reeled off three aces in the final six points to end the opener. Morgan Mammosser (6 assists, 4 points, 1 ace, 1 kill, 1 block, 4 digs) and Linsey Brown (4 kills, 3 points, 4 digs) had kills in that spurt, and Jordan Giddings (7 kills, 1 block, 1 assist) added a stuff block.
The second set wasn't even as close as the first. Winnebago was again within 5-3 early on, then a Giddings kill put Kaylyn Booker back on the service line. When Booker (10 points, 3 digs) was done with her service run, Rock Falls led 14-3. Coach Mammosser emptied her bench, leaving in only Morgan Mammosser and Addesyn Nailor (7 assists, 3 digs) to set, and the Rockets never lost their rhythm.
Rock Falls had 24 kills and six blocks, while the Indians managed just eight kills without a stuff.
"There's not as much pressure on us when the starters play so well and get us such a big lead," said Bailey Schrader, who had three kills and a block off the bench. "We all played well together, and if one of us messed up, there were two or three teammates there to pick us up after the mistake."
Rock Falls def. Winnebago 25-12, 25-9
Star of the match: Bailey O'Brien, RF, 10 points, 5 aces, 4 kills, 1 block
Key performers: Jordan Giddings, RF, 7 kills, 1 block, 1 assist; Cierra Wilder, RF, 3 kills, 2 blocks; Linsey Brown, RF, 4 kills, 3 points; Bailey Schrader, RF, 3 kills, 1 block
Up next: Rock Falls at Dixon Invite, 8:30 a.m. Saturday