DIXON – Dixon's volleyball team didn't exactly save its best for last, but its beginning and middle were so good, it didn't matter.
The Duchesses built up big leads in both sets against Streator, then hung on for dear life at the end to pull out a 25-23, 25-23 victory on Tuesday night in Lancaster Gymnasium.
"I think they put it on cruise control," Dixon coach Bunyan Cocar said, "and they thought Streator was just going to roll over and give them the game. I told them you've got to work for every point, and you can't expect them to give you an easy ball. You've got to earn it."
In the first set, Dixon (3-5, 2-0 Northern Illinois Big 12) built a 16-6 lead, and was still ahead 24-17 after two kills from Amy Rotella and one from Emily Bay.
A hitting error by the Duchesses was followed by two aces from the Bulldogs' Alea Rashid, a kill from Julia Harcharik and two more Dixon hitting errors to narrow the gap to 24-23.
The Duchesses closed out the set, however, on a kill from Rotella. It was her seventh kill of the set.
"It was a little nervewracking when they started creeping up," Rotella said. "To be able to hang on there, that was a good thing."
In the second set, the Duchesses used a 5-0 run highlighted by an ace from Emily Bay and back-to-back kills from Lexi Duncan to seize a 13-7 lead. Dixon maintained that comfortable working margin until the end, when it again had difficulty closing out the set.
With the score 24-21, Rotella served the ball into the net, and Dixon followed with a hitting error to slice its lead to 24-23.
The set ended, however, on a resounding kill from Caitlin Rozek, saving her team the uncertainly of a third set.
Rotella led the way for Dixon with a season-high 14 kills. She often found herself in 1-on-1 situations on the outside, and won those battles more often than not.
"We've been working on that in practice where the middle would hold their blockers," Rotella said, "and we did that really well tonight."
"We faced a much taller team, and we had our work cut out for us to hit around their blocks," Cocar said. "I think Amy Rotella did a great job picking her spots, hitting the line, hitting the sharp cross and making their defense work hard to figure out what they were going to do."
Rachel Gascoigne ran the Duchesses' offense effectively with 24 assists, with Duncan (six kills, two blocks) and Rozek (five kills) benefiting the most. Jessa Long added two aces.
Kaylynne Terry paced Streator (3-8, 0-1) with five points, three kills and two blocks. Harcharik finished with three kills and a block, while Morgan Sharisky added two kills and a block.
Bulldogs head coach Kari Hagerty liked what she saw from her club.
"The biggest struggle we've had this year is playing as a team, playing off each other," Hagerty said, "and I think even though the scoreboard didn't show it, tonight was a big victory for us. We played better as a team than we had all year. This gives us something to build on."
Star of the match: Amy Rotella, Dixon, 14 kills
Key performers: Lexi Duncan, Dixon, 6 kills, 2 blocks; Kaylynne Terry, Sterling, 3 kills, 2 blocks
Up next: Dixon at LaSalle-Peru, 6 p.m. Thursday