STILLMAN VALLEY – To get to the 3A Stillman Valley Regional championship game, the Warriors needed the heavy hitting of Kiarra Harris and Kaylee Martin to beat Dixon in the semifinal on Tuesday.
To win the regional championship against Belvidere, the Warriors took a more subtle approach.
The Warriors tipped the ball over the front line of Bucs' blockers repeatedly to complement their regular power offense in a 25-21, 25-9 win.
"We knew that there was a hole in the middle of their defense, so if we tipped it over, it would probably drop," senior Brooke Williams said. "Tips might not be as exciting as the big kill, but they are just as effective."
"We have very good hitters," Harris said. "We don't always have to get the big kill. Sometimes the tip does just as good of a job. It's our goal to start each set with a bang, and end each set with bang. We did that tonight."
Sterling advances to the 3A Princeton Sectional, where it will play LaSalle-Peru, which won the Streator Regional on Thursday and was the NIB-12 West champion. The Cavaliers beat Morris 25-9, 25-27, 28-26 to win the regional, and they beat Sterling twice during conference play.
"We are just going to have to play very good defense," Williams said. "We have played good defense, but we know that LaSalle-Peru will test our back row, and we are just going to have to step up as a team."
Sterling (26-7) answered the call when Belvidere made a push during the first set.
The Warriors jumped out to an 8-3 lead that included tip kills by Megan Loos and Harris, and a series of hitting errors by Belvidere.
The lead extended to six points at 11-5 after back-to-back kills by Martin.
Belvidere closed the gap, making it a two-point game when Sam Mains stepped to the service line.
Mains challenged the back row with a hard serve that knuckled toward the baseline. It fooled Sterling three straight times for aces, and on her fourth serve, Haley Anderson spiked down the Warriors' return to give the Bucs a 17-15 advantage.
The run forced Sterling coach Dale Dykeman to call timeout.
"I thought they had a couple good servers," Dykeman said, "and they put a few there that made it very tough on our back row. We just needed to focus and get the ball up and get back into our offense."
The Warriors did just that on the ensuing point, and worked the ball to their automatic connection of Darien Bardoner with the set and Harris with the kill.
Bardoner had 13 assists, and Harris had 11 kills.
Jordyn Koett stepped to the service line to spearhead a five-point Sterling run that essentially knocked the Bucs out in the first set.
"We just needed to refocus when they went ahead," said Koett, who had 10 service points and nine assists. "We needed to get our passes up. When we do that, the kills start to come and the whole team gets going.
"We wanted to force them to make plays. We felt like that would lead to them making mistakes and help us to avoid making them."
The plan worked, as the set ended with back-to-back hitting errors by Belvidere.
The Warriors didn't miss a beat in the second set. Sterling jumped out to 13-3 lead, the final point coming on a missed set by Belvidere libero Teagan Toft, who grabbed the ball after it hit the floor and slammed it in frustration.
"It's amazing that we were able to accomplish this," Dykeman said. "But what I really like about it is that everyone was able contribute. Kiarra willed us to win the other night. Tonight, we didn't need to rely on her so much. Everyone that stepped on the court made the plays."
Martin added seven kills, and Gabby Sandoval had three kills and five service points. Taylor Hendrix added four kills. Williams had three kills and a block.
Anderson had four kills for Belvidere, while Mains finished with three aces and two kills.
Star of the match: Jordyn Koett, Sterling, 9 assists, 10 service points.
Up next: 3A Princeton Sectional, Sterling vs. LaSalle-Peru, 6 p.m. Tuesday