STERLING – All match long Thursday night, Dixon volleyball coach Bunyan Cocar could be heard imploring his Duchesses to avoid any Newman runs.
For 90 percent of the match, the Duchesses did just that. But the Comets picked the perfect times to get rolling, and the result was a 25-18, 25-23 Newman victory at home.
"We didn't make some of the in-game adjustments we needed to," Cocar said, "and we failed to recognize at times what Newman was trying to do offensively. They're a smart team, and not only did they hit better shots, but they also scrambled better than we did.
"That gave them a tough victory, and gave us a tough loss."
The play was back and forth all night long. In the first set, the Comets and Duchesses traded 17 straight points until a hitting error and an Allison Shipman ace gave Newman (1-0) some momentum.
After Lexy Duncan's kill and block brought Dixon (0-2) back to a tie at 17-all, the Comets scored eight of the final nine points to take the first set. Megan Rosengren had a kill and two blocks in the spurt, while Aubree Schmitt spiked two kills, and Bree deLong served five straight points – including a pair of aces.
"Our goal going into the end of that first set was to push through it and get some momentum going," Rosengren said. "We got our intensity back up, hit the ball well, and eliminated our mistakes. Then, we carried that over into the second set."
Again, the teams had quite a stretch of back-and-forth play, trading 9 of 10 points early in the match, then 10 of 11 down the stretch.
An Amy Rotella kill, an Emily Bay block, and back-to-back Newman hitting errors gave the Duchesses an 18-13 lead, forcing Newman to use its final timeout.
But the Comets came back strong, scoring the next five points – on two Julie Hurd kills, a Schmitt kill, and two Dixon errors – to tie the set at 18 and force a Dixon timeout.
"Our offense and defense were working pretty good," Duncan said, "but our communication wasn't always there. We'd get down on ourselves, and by the time we picked each other up, they had gone on a run.
"But that's something we'll definitely get better at, and we'll bounce back from this."
Play was ragged after that final break, as Bay's kill was canceled out by a Dixon hitting error. The teams then knocked four of the next five serves out of bounds; the lone in-bounds serve resulted in an illegal hit by the Duchesses.
Rosengren's kill tied the score at 22-all, then another double-hit by Dixon and a serve into the net by Newman made it 23-23.
Schmitt's final kill gave Newman the lead, then Rosengren finished things off with an ace.
"We just had to pull together and get our heads back in the game," deLong said. "We tried to stay mentally tough, and we got our passing back on track and just focused on the next few points and tried to finish strong."
Rosengren had five kills, two blocks, three digs and three points for the Comets. Schmitt and deLong added five kills each, with deLong serving six points and two aces. Shipman and Kayci Howell set for 11 assists each, with Howell adding eight points and three kills. Hurd finished with four kills and an assist, Rachel Humphreys had three kills and two blocks, and libero Sara Nysather chipped in seven digs.
Duncan's five kills and one block paced the Duchesses, while Rotella had four kills, four digs and four points. Caitlin Rozek added three kills, Rachel Gascoigne set for 14 assists, and libero Jessa Long recorded eight digs, two aces and a kill.
Newman def Dixon 25-18, 25-23
Star of the match: Megan Rosengren, Newman, 5 kills, 2 blocks, 3 digs, 3 points, 1 ace
Key performers: Bree deLong, Newman, 5 kills, 6 points, 2 aces; Aubree Schmitt, Newman, 5 kills; Lexy Duncan, Dixon, 5 kills, 1 block; Amy Rotella, Dixon, 4 kills, 4 digs, 4 points
Up next: Rochelle at Dixon, 6 p.m. Tuesday; St. Bede at Newman, 6 p.m. Thursday