GALESBURG – The Champaign Centennial offense lived up to its billing Saturday night at the Class 3A Galesburg Volleyball Supersectional. But it was the Chargers’ defense that controlled the match against Rock Falls.
Led by libero Lindsay Rogan’s 15 digs, Centennial frustrated the Rocket hitters all night long, opening the door for the Charger attackers to pepper the floor with kills during a 25-17, 25-21 victory that sent Centennial into the Final Four.
“We expected them to come out and hit the ball hard,” Rock Falls senior libero Bree Celletti said, “but their defense is as good as it gets. Their blockers and back row really gave their hitters great chances to get kills.”
“Their defense was really scrappy, and you have to give them props for the win,” senior middle Cierra Wilder added. “We knew they were ginormously tall and had good hitters, but every one of their players could hit, pass, dig and set. If we had to lose to a team, that’s the type of team I won’t hang my head about.”
The first set seemed to be all about getting settled in for Rock Falls (29-11). The Rockets fell behind 6-2, then were forced to play catchup the rest of the set. They got to within 8-6 after kills by Jordan Giddings and Linsey Brown, then 13-9 after the first of Bailey O’Brien’s two kills and a Centennial hitting error.
But Rock Falls got no closer than four points. A block and kill by Allie Shannon and an ace from Maddie Weldon offset kills by Giddings and Brown, then kills by Lauren Cloyd and UIC-bound Kara Johnson and a Cloyd block pushed the lead to 22-15. Another Cloyd kill, then a Shannon block after O’Brien’s second kill, gave the Chargers set point, and Libby Cocagne (2 kills, 1 block, 4 points) spiked a kill to end it.
“We started off shaky, and definitely a little nervous,” senior middle Giddings said, “and didn’t expect them to be as good on both offense and defense. But we came out in the second game and played the way we know how; if we would have played that way from the start, it would have been a completely different match.”
“Initially, we were shocked by their size and skill – they were huge, hard hitters – and we didn’t play our good game,” senior hitter/setter Morgan Mammosser added. “I think it took us a set to figure them out. The second set we were loose and relaxed, and we played our game, which worked out better for us.”
The Rockets took their first lead of the match at 2-1 in the second set on a Giddings kill, then 3-2 on a Centennial service error. After falling behind 10-5, a block by Wilder (1 kill, 1 block) against Bradley recruit Rachel Jones changed the tone a bit. Mammosser got a sideout kill at 13-10, then Giddings ripped a kill and combined with Brown on a block to make it 14-12.
After a Johnson ace and a pair of kills by Cloyd gave Centennial (36-4) a 20-16 lead, a service error gave Rock Falls a sideout. Giddings tipped a kill, then combined with Mammosser to stuff a block to get to 20-19, and kills by Giddings and Brown answered a Jones kill to tie the score at 21-all.
“The momentum shifted their way there, and we felt we needed to get back in system and get the ball to our big hitters,” Centennial coach Stan Bergman said. “We kept our composure and integrity, controlled the tempo from the serve to the attack and everything in between, and got back to our game plan to close it out.”
That game plan was setting the Chargers’ two Division-I recruits. Jones smoked a kill, then Johnson hit another off the Rock Falls block for a 23-21 lead, forcing the Rockets’ final timeout.
After the break, Johnson slammed another kill, then Jones smacked one off the block to end the match.
“We got the nerves out, stepped up our game and played a lot better in the second set,” senior setter Addesyn Nailor said, “but they’re a very tough team on offense and defense, and they got the big kills when they needed them.”
“We definitely felt like we were right there, but then they got the kill to break the tie and then hit one off our block,” Mammosser said. “That’s when it started to sink in that we weren’t going to win.”
Giddings had match highs of 10 kills and three blocks to lead Rock Falls, while Brown added five kills and a stuff. Mammosser had six assists, six digs, four points, two kills and a block, and Nailor set 12 assists to go with five digs. Celletti led the defense with seven digs and also served for five points.
Johnson led Centennial with eight kills, seven points and two aces, while Jones and Cloyd each added seven kills and two blocks.
Centennial will take on Wheaton St. Francis at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the 3A state semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal; Richmond-Burton and Jacksonville will play in the other semi at approximately 6 p.m.
“We went down swinging, and that’s all we could have asked for,” Brown said. “That’s a really good team, maybe the state champs, and we gave it our best shot and pushed them a little bit. I’m so proud of us for that.”
Class 3A Galesburg Supersectional
Champaign Centennial def. Rock Falls 25-17, 25-21
Star of the match: Jordan Giddings, RF, 10 kills, 3 blocks
Key performers: Linsey Brown, RF, 5 kills, 1 block; Kara Johnson Centennial, 8 kills, 1 block, 7 points, 2 aces; Rachel Jones, Centennial, 7 kills, 2 blocks; Lauren Cloyd, Centennial, 7 kills, 2 blocks
Up next: Centennial at Class 3A state tournament, at Redbird Arena in Normal, Friday & Saturday