ROCK FALLS – Tabor Gym has been a house of horrors for Oregon volleyball. And for about 5 minutes Tuesday night, it had to feel every bit of one to Delaney Mahoney.
Oregon's junior setter was whistled for her first four lifts of the season but, with a little help from her friends, overcame the whistles in a 25-23, 25-23 victory, the Hawks' first over Rock Falls since 2010.
"She's made two all-tournament teams this year and hasn't been called for a lift yet this season," Oregon coach Faith Watson said. "It was a little frustrating, and I think it wore on her a little bit. It was fantastic to see the girls come back from that, to see Delaney keep working hard and never give up."
"We told her, 'Just keep your head up. You've been setting like that since the beginning of the season. We don't know why he's calling them now,'" said senior Cydney Long, who celebrated her 18th birthday Tuesday. "We definitely picked her up and told her to keep doing what she was doing. And she adjusted well."
The four lifts formed the bridge of a 9-4 Rock Falls run that turned an 8-8 tie into a 17-12 lead. But Mahoney set up two kills by sophomore Sommer Rhea – sandwiched around a kill by Rock Falls junior Dallas Clevenger – that made it 22-18 Rockets.
Rhea, who had six blocks and tied topspin jump serve specialist Bailey O'Brien for a match-high four aces, took over service with her Hawks down 23-19 and served out the set. After Long blocked down an errant pass, Rhea carved out two aces. Then a fourth hit was called on Rock Falls before O'Brien was called for a net foul.
Neither call was popular with Rock Falls coach Sheila Mammosser.
"They were stepping on each other's toes all night," she said of the officials. "They were calling things that weren't their call. Your hair is not part of your body on a net call. When you turn and your hair flicks the net, that's not a net call. I just don't think they can keep up with the speed of the game.
"The officials were absolutely awful, and I don't think they deserve to be on the stand. Period. Those two have been that way all year."
But she held her team accountable for allowing the set to be taken away.
"We gave up," Mammosser said. "I think we just thought we had it won. And that was very frustrating. We didn't deserve to win it."
Credit the Rockets for seizing a 4-0 lead in Set 2. After Oregon battled back, Rock Falls used a 7-0 run on O'Brien's service to take an 18-14 lead. She rattled off three aces, the first shanking harmlessly off Long's fists.
"I made that first mistake, where I kind of dropped my hands and that ball just shanked off, and I was like, 'Wow. Really?'" Long said.
Another ticked the net and fell a foot shy of Long, who dove and likely would've dug it up, if not for the net's impedance.
But Whitney Long gave her cousin the ultimate birthday gift, teaming up to block Clevenger and finally achieve a side out. Whitney Long was visibly fired up.
"It feels good to be able to play with her and my other cousin, Hailey," she said. "It's nice to work hard together.
"I knew that if we just put our heads together and worked hard at practice, we'd be ready for this. We came in with our heads up, and we brought our 'A' game."
O'Brien's run might have lasted longer, if not for Watson cranking the ball machine on high during Monday's practice, in anticipation of O'Brien's devastating sinker.
The Hawks still trailed 23-21 when Cydney Long craftily tipped a kill over a double block and into space, capping a frenetic point that featured four digs, two per side.
On Jordan Wilken's solid service, the Hawks took the last three points, the exclamation point an Emy Wright (team-high 7 kills) ripper off the solo block of Sydney Arickx, who led the Rockets with three block kills.
What a far cry from warmups, when Mahoney's sets were a bit off and Wright struggled to disguise her frustration.
"I knew during the game what I needed to fix," Mahoney said. "I just had to get my hips squared out. Then I had to get higher hands, because I was getting called for lifts. I got them higher, and it was just fine."
Then came a shoutout to her dad, Tom.
"It was definitely frustrating to get called for four lifts in a row," Mahoney said. "I had to push through. I could hear my dad up there yelling, 'Next play! Next play!' So I was like, 'OK. Deep breath. I got it.'"
When Mahoney was a freshman, the Hawks lost one forgettable set 25-3 at Tabor.
"I think that memory will always kind of stick out in their heads," Watson said. "Tonight was definitely a team win."
Star of the match: Delaney Mahoney, Oregon, 21 assists
Key performers: Emy Wright, Oregon, 7 kills, 3 digs; Sommer Rhea, Oregon, 6 kills, 4 aces; Shannon Cullen, Oregon, 5 spike kills, 3 block kills; Bailey O'Brien, Rock Falls, 5 kills, 4 aces; Bailey Schrader, Rock Falls, 4 spike kills, 2 block kills
Up next: Oregon at Byron, 6 p.m. Thursday; Stillman Valley at Rock Falls, 6 p.m. Tuesday