STERLING – Even without the intense atmosphere so prevalent at Homer Musgrove Fieldhouse, the Sterling Golden Warriors found a way to keep their intensity Tuesday night.
In a quiet gym, freshman Kaylee Martin provided plenty of noise, dominating the opening set of the Golden Warriors’ 25-11, 25-20 victory over Northern Illinois Big 12 West foe Streator.
“She’s so huge for us, because it’s another weapon we can use,” setter Jordyn Koett said. “She plays strong at the net, hits the ball so hard, and we trust her totally. We know if we can get her the ball, she’s going to put down a big kill for us.
“That helps us stay up emotionally, keep our intensity going, and just ignore the quiet.”
Sterling (25-7, 6-3) never trailed in the opening set, and back-to-back Taylor Hendrix kills gave the Warriors an 11-8 lead. Martin had kills on three of the next five points, then spiked another to put Sterling ahead 17-10.
Martin’s sixth ace of the set gave Sterling another sideout at 19-11, and she proceeded to serve out. She had five aces in the final six points, with Kiarra Harris’ kill sprinkled in the mix.
“It’s good to stay on top, but we didn’t want to be too cocky,” Martin said. “I know when I mess up, I have great teammates who can help me get my intensity back up, and I love it when I can help do the same for them.”
Streator (7-19, 1-8) took its only lead at 5-4 in the second set, then battled back after Koett’s run of five service points (the last one an ace) and two more Martin kills to tie the score at 15.
But a service error, then a hitting error on a Martin serve gave the momentum back to the Warriors. Hendrix’s kill off a Koett set made it 20-17, then the two hooked up for another kill and a 22-18 lead.
Another Streator service error gave Sterling a sideout and a 23-20 lead, and Darien Bardoner finished it out at the service line, the final point coming on another Hendrix kill.
“When we come ready to play, I truly believe we can hang with any team,” Streator coach Kari Hagerty said. “We know Sterling’s always good, always tough, and I think we were beat tonight before we even took the court. That’s been happening too much this year.”
Sterling had 17 kills to Streator’s 12, 16 assists to the Bulldogs’ 10, and 10 aces to Streator’s one. The Bulldogs had 15 hitting errors and eight service errors; the Warriors had 11 hitting miscues and four service errors.
Martin finished with match highs of eight kills, 10 points and six aces, while Hendrix added five kills and an ace. Bardoner served nine points and set eight assists, Koett dished seven assists to go with five points and an ace, and Harris had three kills, four points and two aces. Gabby Sandoval chipped in six digs and a kill.
“We’re working really well as a team right now, and that makes it so much fun to be out there with these girls,” Martin said. “When we work hard and play together, that’s when we play well … and I really love to be out there when we’re doing that.”
Mikayla Greenwood paced Streator with four kills and a block, while Lexi Black had three kills and a block. Zoe Smith led the defense with 12 digs, and Madison Richardson served six points.
Sterling def. Streator 25-11, 25-20
Star of the match: Kaylee Martin, Sterling, 8 kills, 10 points, 6 aces
Key performers: Taylor Hendrix, Sterling, 5 kills; Darien Bardoner, Sterling, 9 points, 8 assists; Mikayla Greenwood, Streator, 4 kills, 1 block
Up next: Geneseo at Sterling, 6 p.m. Thursday