DIXON – The last time Dixon and Sterling clashed on the volleyball court, the Duchesses came out with more intensity and turned it into an upset victory at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
On Thursday night at Lancaster Gym, the Golden Warriors were determined not to let that happen again.
With both teams clad in pink for Volley for a Cure night, the Warriors jumped out to leads in both sets before holding off several charges by the Duchesses to win their final match as conference foes, 25-18, 25-22.
"Nobody likes getting beat at their own place," Sterling libero Jamy Trancoso said, "and we wanted to make sure we got one against them here after they got us in Sterling."
Unlike the match back on Sept. 24, the Warriors (24-7, 5-3 NIB-12 West) came out the hotter team. They trailed just twice in the first set, the last coming at 3-2, before taking control. After an Emily Bay kill and Caitlin Rozek ace gave Dixon (13-17, 4-3) a 7-7 tie, Gabby Sandoval got a Sterling sideout when a spike bounced off her right shoulder and landed in bounds between three Dixon players.
That's when Kiarra Harris took over. The senior hitter reeled off nine straight points, including four consecutive aces, to give Sterling a 17-7 lead. Sandoval had two kills in the spurt, while Brooke Williams stuffed a pair of blocks and Taylor Hendrix added a kill.
"We preach before every game to stay on top of our energy and emotions," setter Darien Bardoner said. "We've been digging holes for ourselves a lot lately, and it felt good to come out and get the lead and momentum early tonight."
Blocks by Amy Rotella and Maggie Provo started a string of five straight points from Olivia Sztochmal after a Dixon sideout, and Sztochmal also sprinkled in an ace before a Rotella kill made it 17-13. Another Rotella block and a Provo ace brought the Duchesses to within 18-15.
"It's important for us to let the other team know we're going to fight back and not just give up when we get behind," setter Rachel Gascoigne said. "We got our energy and excitement level back up, and made some nice runs at them tonight."
But three kills from Kaylee Martin and an ace from Hendrix restored order for Sterling, and Harris answered Lexy Duncan's kill with a spike of her own to close out the opening set.
The second set was much like the first. Bardoner reeled off four straight points on four Dixon errors to start, and back-to-back kills by Martin made it 6-1. Another Martin kill answered a Jessa Long ace, and the teams traded points until 12-8.
A service error by Sterling and a Rotella ace got Dixon to within 12-10, but the Warriors answered with Bardoner at the service line again. Two hitting errors by the Duchesses and a Hendrix block pushed Sterling's lead to 16-10.
"When we get on rolls, it's because of our passing," Trancoso said. "Without that, we can't set up our hitters to make the big impact they always make. We're happy with how we fought through things tonight."
Trailing 19-13, Rotella tried to take over for the Duchesses. She had kills on three straight Dixon points – with serving errors between each one – before Duncan's block made it 21-17. After another Rotella kill, the junior went back to the service line and ripped off back-to-back aces following a Sterling hitting error to cut the deficit to 22-21.
But her next serve went long, and Bardoner's perfectly timed tip-kill in the middle of six Dixon defenders proved to be a back-breaker. Megan Loos' kill answered a Rozek spike to close out the match.
"We're finally playing with some intensity and consistency," Sterling coach Dale Dykeman said. "We're learning that high-energy doesn't mean reckless, and we're controlling our emotions better both in good times and in bad."
Martin led the Warriors with a match-high seven kills and added five digs, while Bardoner had 12 assists and eight points. Harris and Sandoval had four kills each and Hendrix spiked three, with Sandoval adding seven digs and Hendrix stuffing two blocks and serving two aces. Trancoso paced the back-row defense with 16 digs.
Rotella stuffed the stat sheet for the Duchesses, finishing with six kills, five points, four digs, three aces and two blocks. Rozek had four kills, five digs and to aces, Duncan added three kills and a block, and Gascoigne had 12 assists. Long chipped in nine digs and four aces.
"It helps to have the lead, because it's less stressful and more fun to play when you're ahead," said Gascoigne, who dished 12 assists. "Sterling got that lead, got that momentum tonight, and they held on to it."
Sterling def. Dixon 25-18, 25-22
Star of the match: Amy Rotella, Dixon, 6 kills, 5 points, 4 digs, 3 aces, 2 blocks
Key performers: Kaylee Martin, Sterling, 7 kills, 5 digs; Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 4 kills, 9 points, 4 aces; Gabby Sandoval, Sterling, 4 kills, 7 digs; Caitlin Rozek, Dixon, 4 kills, 5 digs, 2 aces; Jessa Long, Dixon, 9 digs, 4 aces
Up next: LaSalle-Peru at Dixon, 6 p.m. Monday; Streator at Sterling, 6 p.m. Tuesday