BYRON – The Jolly Green Giant, a hot dog and many other characters approved of the Oregon volleyball team’s performance Tuesday night.
Buoyed by a festive student section dressed in a Halloween garb, the Hawks came out on fire, then had to hang on for a 25-7, 22-25, 25-22 win over Westmont in a Class 2A Byron Sectional semifinal.
Next up for Oregon is Dakota, which took apart North Boone 25-6, 25-13 in the first match of the evening. The Hawks and Indians will play Thursday at 7 p.m., with a berth in the Pecatonica Supersectional at stake.
“This is amazing,” Oregon senior Devyn Absher said. “I think we just wanted it more, so it feels really good.”
Oregon (27-11-1) looked like it would have a cakewalk into the title game after a dominant performance in Set 1. Absher put down six of her match-high 17 kills, and the Hawks barely broke a sweat.
Things got tougher in the second set, as Westmont (28-9) played better defense, and hitters Susie Sternard (8 kills) and Briann Gilley (4 kills) heated up. The Sentinels put together a pair of late 3-0 runs to seize control, and a block by Sternard put them up 24-19.
Oregon fought back to get within 24-22, but a net violation on the Hawks forced a third set.
Westmont coach Jennifer Gliwa Bell noted she didn’t make any second-set adjustments. It was just a matter of her team playing better.
“I just told them to clean their shorts and start playing,” Gliwa Bell said. “I said, ‘Come on now, we’re just better than that.’ Maybe it was nerves a little bit. Once we got settled, that was far more indicative of our play all season long.”
Oregon started the third set with a 7-0 run capped by a tip kill by Delaney Mahoney, but Westmont fought back. The Sentinels got within a point on three different occasions, the last time at 14-13 after an Oregon serving error, but the Hawks had a working margin the rest of the way.
Back-to-back kills by Emy Wright (14 digs, 11 kills) put Oregon up 22-17, and kills by Shannon Cullen and Absher made the score 24-20.
Absher was wide left on a potential set-ending kill attempt, then Westmont’s Haley Bueser got a kill from the back row to get her team to within 24-22. Oregon finished off the set and the match, however, in textbook fashion.
Junior libero Jordan Wilken dug up a serve with a perfect pass to Mahoney. Rather than set up a teammate, she took the kill shot herself and pulled it off, setting off a wild Oregon celebration. Mahoney had four tip kills in the final set.
“Coach tells me that’s my move,” Mahoney said. “She said whenever I get those juicy balls, just go for it. I felt that some of those balls were juicy, so I went for it.”
Mahoney finished with 27 assists, and a good portion of those went to Absher, who had 17 kills and 11 digs.
“Me and her have been working together all season,” Absher said. “We just have a connection of knowing when I’m on and I’m off, and she knows what to do with the ball.”
The Hawks will now get another shot at Dakota. The Indians beat Oregon 22-25, 25-12, 25-21 on Sept. 1.
“I think we can do it,” Absher said. “I think it’s possible. We took them to three games and we only lost by four in the third, so we can do it.”
Star of the match: Devyn Absher, Oregon, 17 kills, 11 digs
Key performers: Delaney Mahoney, Oregon, 27 assists; Emy Wright, Oregon, 14 digs, 11 kills; Susie Sternard, Westmont, 18 digs, 8 kills
Up next: Championship match, Oregon vs. Dakota, 7 p.m. Thursday