STILLMAN VALLEY – Before the Dixon volleyball team could get another shot at Sterling, it had to commit to beating the Indians.
The Duchesses did just that, rallying late in both sets to take a 25-18, 25-20 decision over Winnebago in a Class 3A Stillman Valley Regional first-round game. Dixon (16-18) will now take on Sterling (25-7) tonight at 6 p.m., with the winner advancing to the championship game on Thursday.
"I think we wanted to prove that we were here to fight and ready to play," senior outside hitter Caitlin Rozek said.
Dixon led just 15-14 in the first set when it took control. A Stillman Valley hitting error was followed by kills from Rozek and Emily Bay, then an ace from Jessa Long to up the margin to 19-14. Kills from outside hitter Amy Rotella accounted for four of Dixon's final six points, including the clincher, as the Duchesses took the first set.
Rotella had six of her eight kills in the first set, while fellow outside hitter Rozek added three kills during that span. The key was avoiding the Indians' Aira Hanson, a burly 6-footer who was a force at the net.
"We started playing smarter, not just hitting right into their blocks," Rozek said. "In the beginning we were hitting, and we started tipping around them, because we realized we couldn't hit into them and get a point."
Hanson finished with seven kills and five blocks, and Dixon coach Bunyan Cocar came away impressed.
"[Hanson] is the type of player we haven't seen much this year – really tall, she can block and she tips from a very tall elevation straight down," Cocar said. "We've seen players tip up, but not too many that tip straight down like that. It took us a while to read that and adjust to that."
Winnebago (11-21) jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the second set, and was still up 20-18 after a kill from freshman outside hitter Hailey Youngren. Indians' libero Carly Molter then served the ball into the net, and Hanson was rotated out of the game.
Without her in the middle, the Duchesses went to town. Stillman Valley was called for four hits to tie the game up at 20-20, then Long and Rotella followed with kills to make it 22-20.
A block from Bay gave Dixon another point, then a hitting error by the Indians' Youngren put Dixon on the verge of victory. Bay finished off the set and the match with her second kill of the night.
Winnebago coach Kendra Cox downplayed Hanson being on the bench at the end of the second set.
"I think we get a little frazzled when the score is pretty close like it was," Cox said, "and sometimes it's hard for us to calm down."
Rotella finished with eight kills, eight digs and two blocks to pace Dixon, while Rozek added eight kills and two aces. Lexy Duncan had four kills and four blocks, and Rachel Gascoigne dished out 20 assists, with two aces.
Tonight, Dixon will take another swing at Sterling. The teams split NIB-12 matches, and the Golden Warriors won in the Dixon Invitational.
"It's a fun game to play," Rozek said. "I think we bring the best out in each other. I'm excited for it."
"We have to play our best game to beat them," Cocar said. "They run the middle well with [Kiarra] Harris and the outside with [Kaylee] Martin. Their setters are good. Their defense is good. If we play the best volleyball, which we're capable of, we can hang with them."
Star of the match: Amy Rotella, Dixon, 8 kills, 8 digs, 2 blocks
Key performers: Caitlin Rozek, Dixon, 8 kills, 2 aces; Aira Hanson, Winnebago, 7 kills, 5 blocks
Up next: Stillman Valley Regional semifinal, Dixon vs. Sterling, 6 p.m. tonight