STERLING – The Rock Falls Rockets have always led with their defense. The Sterling Golden Warriors usually boast a potent offense. When the two meet on the volleyball court, something's got to give.
On Tuesday night at Musgrove Fieldhouse, it was the Sterling front row that got the better of the Rock Falls back row. The Golden Warriors spiked 22 kills and stuffed eight blocks, leading the way in a 25-13, 25-14 victory.
"We wanted to get a touch on everything they hit, and get blocks up and spikes down," said Sterling senior Kiarra Harris, who had half of the team's kill total and added two blocks. "We knew we couldn't let up against them, so we just kept swinging hard and tried not to give them anything easy."
Sterling (2-0) grabbed the momentum right out of the gate and never let go. Three Harris kills in four points put the Warriors up 7-3 in the opening set, then she ripped off two aces in the next four points for an 11-3 lead.
Taylor Hendrix then got into the act, stuffing two blocks and ripping a kill in a five-point span for a commanding 20-6 margin.
Rock Falls (0-2) got to within 21-12 after two Bailey Schrader kills and a few Sterling errors, but a Harris block and kill ended any thoughts of a Rocket comeback.
"They have some really good hitters," Rock Falls senior libero Kaylyn Booker said, "and we didn't bounce back very well tonight. Once we got behind, we got our heads down and couldn't get anything going."
The second set was more of the same. Sterling led 8-3 after a block and a kill by Harris and an ace from Kaylee Martin, then pushed the margin to 12-4 after three straight Rocket hitting errors and a Brooke Williams block.
Rock Falls fought back with its best run of the night. Trailing 15-7, Bailey O'Brien reeled off back-to-back aces before Sydney Arickx stuffed a block and Paige Reynolds ripped a kill.
But at 16-11, Sterling's Darien Bardoner dug up a Rock Falls spike that landed in the middle of the Rockets' defense to once again turn the tide toward the Warriors. Hendrix followed with an ace and a point on a Rocket hitting error, Martin ripped a kill, then Harris had two more kills for a 23-12 lead.
A Reynolds kill and O'Brien block staved off the inevitable for a couple of points, but Harris closed things out with a pair of kills.
"It felt like we were in control the whole way," Hendrix said, "but we knew we had to keep going and not let them get back into it. We were physically and mentally prepared for this match, and we got the win we really wanted."
Martin finished with six kills, six digs and six points, while Hendrix added four blocks and two kills. Bardoner had 14 assists and 10 points, and Jaymee Trancoso had nine digs. The Warriors outkilled the Rockets 22-10 and outblocked them 8-2.
O'Brien's four kills and three aces led Rock Falls, while Chelsi Blair had nine assists and three points. Reynolds and Schrader spiked three kills each, and Booker led the defense with eight digs.
The Rockets are trying to replace five starters from last year's 3A sectional title team, and coach Sheila Mammosser knows there will be some growing pains.
"I preach defense, and I kept subbing to give everybody an opportunity to show me some," Mammosser said, "but we just couldn't find it. We didn't execute like we wanted on offense, and we didn't get any touches on their hitters. I'm disappointed, because I thought we'd be a little more competitive than that.
"But it's not where you are at the beginning of the season, but where you are at the end. This was another chance for our girls to feel each other out, and we'll learn from it and get better because of it."
Sterling def. Rock Falls 25-13, 25-14
Star of the match: Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 11 kills, 2 blocks, 4 points, 2 aces
Key performers: Kaylee Martin, Sterling, 6 kills, 6 digs, 6 points; Taylor Hendrix, Sterling, 4 blocks, 2 kills, 3 points; Darien Bardoner, Sterling, 14 assists, 10 points; Bailey O'Brien, RF, 4 kills, 1 block, 3 aces; Kaylyn Booker, RF, 8 digs
Up next: Rock Falls at Burlington Central, 6 p.m. Thursday; Sterling at Rochelle Invite, 8:30 a.m. Saturday