ROCK FALLS – Chelsi Blair and Bailey O’Brien are new to jump serving. You wouldn’t know it.
The Rock Falls duo combined for eight of the Rockets’ 13 aces in their 25-21, 25-20 Big Northern West win over Winnebago on Monday night at Tabor Gym.
Blair, a junior, had a team-high five aces with her floating jump serve. She also had team highs of 10 assists and five digs. O’Brien, a sophomore, had three aces to go along with a team-high seven kills and five digs.
O’Brien honed her jump serve during her traveling season last winter. It didn’t take long for her to perfect it.
“I got it right away,” she said. “I just toss it up and do my spike approach.”
“Our serving has been our strong point all year,” Rockets coach Sheila Mammosser said. “Normally, we haven’t had that.”
Entering her 16th season, Mammosser has had to adjust to coaching a young group that has just one senior in the starting lineup.
“I’ve had to regroup how I coach,” Mammosser said. “I’m usually in your face. I’m really trying to be more positive and instruct a little bit more instead of demand more. I have to give them a teeny bit of leeway, but it’s going to get cut off here shortly. At this point, they should be able to execute better than what we’re doing.”
Rock Falls (4-6, 2-1) jumped in front 14-8 in Set 1 after a five-point stretch by Blair that included three aces and a kill by junior Dallas Clevenger, who had five kills.
Winnebago (1-9, 0-2) chipped away then worked in front 19-16. With her team trailing 20-17, O’Brien stepped up, providing two aces and a kill in a 5-0 burst that also included kills by Clevenger and junior Bailey Schrader, who had four kills.
Leading 22-21, the Rockets closed the set with a kill by Clevenger, an ace from senior Kaylyn Booker and a Winnebago error.
After falling behind 4-1 in Set 2, Rock Falls reeled off six straight points and led the rest of the way. O’Brien had a kill and Schrader a block to highlight the surge.
The Indians hung around for a while, pulling within one four times, the last at 11-10.
The Rockets’ serving paved the way to an 11-2 blitz that all but put the match away. The tear included three aces by sophomore Sydney Arickx, two aces from Blair, and kills by Arickx and Schrader.
Mammosser worked several reserves into the lineup down the stretch, and Winnebago took advantage, shaving the margin to 23-20 before an O’Brien kill and an Indians error closed things out.
“We could have played a lot better than we did, but we came through when we needed to,” Clevenger said. “We lost a lot of people who played last year, so it’s like starting over. I think we’re all getting used to each other.”
Winnebago’s Aira Hanson had a match-high eight kills and three blocks.
Star of the match: Bailey O’Brien, Rock Falls, 7 kills, 5 digs, 3 aces
Key performers: Aira Hanson, Winnebago, 8 kills, 3 blocks; Dallas Clevenger, Rock Falls, 5 kills; Chelsi Blair, Rock Falls, 10 assists, 5 aces, 5 digs
Up next: Rock Falls at Byron, 6 p.m. Wednesday