ROCK FALLS – No lead was safe for Rockford Lutheran on Tuesday night at Tabor Gym. Every time the Crusaders looked like they had things in hand, they left the door open for Rock Falls.
And the Rockets stormed through it.
Rock Falls erased deficits in all three sets of its Big Northern West volleyball opener, taking advantage of 20 hitting errors and 11 service errors by Lutheran to come from behind and beat the Crusaders 26-28, 25-20, 25-21.
"It's tough to feel like you lost to yourself," Lutheran coach Kyle Milborn said. "We kept jumping out to leads, and then let them right back in it. Rock Falls played hard, battled all night, and our youth really showed whenever they'd get close again."
The first set was a sign of things to come, as Rock Falls fell behind 10-1 before climbing back into it. Back-to-back blocks by sophomore Sydney Arickx seemed to spark the Rockets, and they took their first lead since 1-0 at 21-20 after back-to-back Dallas Clevenger aces.
But Lutheran staved off three set points, and three hitting errors in a row by Rock Falls (3-5) gave the Crusaders the first-set victory.
"But we felt like we were back in it thanks to those two big blocks by Sydney," Clevenger said. "That was one of those plays that got us going, really made everyone realize that we had to pick it up or we'd be blown out."
"I just thought that my team needed me to make a difference," Arickx said. "It was our first conference match, and we all realized what we had to do of we wanted to get back in it."
Lutheran's biggest lead in the second set came at 14-10, but two aces by Peyton Milne and a Crusader hitting error tied things at 14.
A Bailey O'Brien ace, an Arickx block, and three errors by Lutheran put the Rockets up 19-15. Clevenger and Arickx ripped kills when the Crusaders got back to within one point on two occasions, then O'Brien's ace and another Lutheran hitting error gave Rock Falls the second-set win.
The third set started off like the first. Lutheran led 9-4, but Rock Falls responded after a timeout. O'Brien ripped back-to-back kills, then Milne served an ace to make it 9-7. After a Lutheran mini-run, Clevenger's kill gave the Rockets a sideout trailing 16-11.
Chelsi Blair then went on a serving binge, starting a string of seven straight points with an ace. Clevenger had a pair of kills in the spurt, and Bailey Schrader also spiked one home to give Rock Falls an 18-16 lead and force a Lutheran timeout.
"We all stepped up and did our different jobs, and that made all the difference," Arickx said. "I think we were all trying too hard, trying to do too much, and we finally just settled down and focused on our own responsibilities. We stepped up and just kept chipping away."
Another Schrader kill answered a Katie Dolan kill after the timeout, then the teams traded serves out of bounds. Mackenzie Zanello ripped her final kill of the night to make it 20-19 Rock Falls, but an Arickx kill, a Lutheran hit into the net and an O'Brien kill gave the Rockets some breathing room.
After back-to-back-to-back service errors, Rock Falls led 24-21 and Lutheran had the serve. But Blair set to Clevenger, who rattled home the final kill of the match off a pair of Crusader blockers and set off a loud celebration on the Rockets' side of the net.
"Give Rock Falls credit, because once we built those big leads, they prevented us from scoring and keeping our rhythm," Milborn said. "Volleyball is a game of momentum and errors, and we lost that game tonight."
Zanello had match highs of 12 kills and 10 points for Lutheran, while Abby Wollacott added 10 kills and two blocks. Dolan finished with 11 assists, eight kills, nine points and three aces, and Dakotah Hazlewood set for 16 assists.
O'Brien led the Rockets with nine kills and added nine digs, while Clevenger finished with eight kills, seven points and four aces. Arickx and Schrader had four kills each, with Arickx adding three blocks, while Kaylyn Booker led the back row with 10 digs and served for seven points. Blair dished out 19 assists, served for nine points and recorded eight digs.
"We're kind of restarting things this year, with a whole new group of girls," Clevenger said, "and I think we realized Saturday [at the Rock Falls Invite] and tonight that we have the talent to win matches. It's all about us coming together as a team, and a win like this should help us do that."
Rock Falls def. Rockford Lutheran 26-28, 25-20, 25-21
Star of the match: Mackenzie Zanello, Lutheran, 12 kills, 10 points, 2 aces
Key performers: Bailey O'Brien, RF, 9 kills, 9 digs, 5 points; Dallas Clevenger, RF, 8 kills, 7 points, 4 aces; Chelsi Blair, RF, 19 assists, 9 points, 8 digs; Abby Wollacott, Lutheran, 10 kills, 2 blocks; Katie Dolan, Lutheran, 11 assists, 8 kills, 9 points, 3 aces
Up next: Rock Falls at Mendota, 6 p.m. Thursday