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Freeport keys on Rotella in third set

Pretzels eliminate No. 1 option

FREEPORT – Once Dixon's main offensive source was cut off, its chances of pulling out a win withered away.

Sophomore outside hitter Amy Rotella had a hot stretch to give Duchesses some hope, but it was Freeport which eventually shut her down and pulled out a 25-19, 20-25, 25-14 victory on Tuesday night in a Class 3A Freeport Regional semifinal.

The Pretzels (10-20) will take on Rochelle, which rallied to beat Winnebago in the evening's first match, for a regional title on Thursday.

Dixon's best stretch of play came in the second game, when it continually fed Rotella on the outside. She had six of her team-high eight kills in the game, including four in a row to break a 12-12 tie. The last of her six kills gave Dixon a 23-20 lead, and a net violation and hitting error by Freeport finished off the game.

Freeport raced out to a 10-3 lead in the third game, only to have Dixon mount a furious rally. The Duchesses got to within a point twice at 10-9 and 12-11, but kills by the Pretzels' Natalie Ludolph and Ashley Alexander prevented Dixon from tying up the score.

That's when Freeport's Bryn Buckwalter took over. She served the next eight points, including three aces, to give Freeport a commanding 21-11 lead it did not relinquish.

"The third game, a lot of it came down to serve receive," Dixon coach Kelsey Polte said. "[Buckwalter] had a nice topspin serve that kept catching our passers a little bit out of position. They kind of fed off of her rally, and we let them go on too long of a run."

"We came out with intensity," senior outside hitter Rachel Musser said, "but if we lose a point, then all of our intensity just drops. It's really hard to come back from that."

Dixon's offense, meanwhile, was silenced in the third game due to an adjustment in the Freeport defense. Head coach Laura Olson focused more on Rotella, and Dixon's top threat had just one kill in the final game.

"We made an adjustment in what we were going to allow her to swing at," Olson said. "In the second game, we were trying to take away her line, which didn't work out too well for us because we have a smaller outside blocker. We set up a little more inside, and had our pin blocker move right onto her arm. Instead of trying to take away one area, we just moved wherever she went, and that worked out better for us."

Sarah Wichmann finished with six kills and five blocks for Freeport, and Jordan Olson added 13 digs.

For Dixon (9-20), Kari Wolfe had 15 digs, Erin Smith had seven assists and two aces, Rachel Gascoigne had nine assists, Caitlin Rozek had three kills and Lexy Duncan added two blocks.

Polte will welcome back the bulk of the team that saw the floor Tuesday night, and is confident her team will continue to improve.

"We do lose some key seniors and we will miss them dearly," Polte said, "but we have a lot to look forward to."

Star of the game: Amy Rotella, Dixon, 8 kills

Key performers: Ashley Alexander, Freeport 7 kills. Kari Wolfe, Dixon 15 digs

Up next: Freeport Regional championship, Rochelle vs. Freeport, 6 p.m. Thursday

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