Brooke Williams hadn't had a chance to talk to coach Dale Dykeman while celebrating the 3A Stillman Valley Regional championship last Thursday.
Yet, the Sterling senior already knew what the next few days of practice would focus on – defense. That's because she and junior Jordyn Koett, who had similar thoughts, knew what the difference was the first two times that Sterling had played LaSalle-Peru.
"We are 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."
The Warriors (26-7) will play LaSalle-Peru (31-3), the NIB-12 West champions, at 6 p.m. today in a semifinal of the 3A Princeton Sectional. Sycamore (16-17) will play Dunlap (13-18) in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. The championship match will be Thursday.
"You reach this point where there are only 32 teams left in the state, and you know that you are going to play very good teams," said Dykeman after practice on Monday. "We are not afraid of anyone, but we know to respect them. We're playing some of the best volleyball that we have all season, and that gives us a lot of confidence."
Sterling lost at LaSalle-Peru on Sept. 17 by scores of 18-25, 25-21, 25-18. They followed that with a loss at Musgrove Fieldhouse on Sept. 10, 25-17, 16-25, 25-17.
The key to the Cavaliers' offense has been senior Katie Olson, who played one season at Rock Falls. Her father, Scott, was the Rockets' basketball coach for two seasons.
Around Olson, the Cavaliers have strong hitters in sophomore Taylor Gibson and senior middle hitter Rachel Hunt.
"Everything runs through their setter," Dykeman said. "She does an excellent job with misdirection. If you try to guess, she'll catch you every time. That cost us a few times in the first couple matches."
That's the reason Dykeman went to the tapes and spent time at practice installing a new defense.
His hope is to disrupt Olson and put LaSalle-Peru on its heels.
"We've watched tape and plan on running a defense that they haven't seen this season," Dykeman said. "We hope it forces them to make a few in-game adjustments."
On the flip side, Sterling is coming off a regional where it rallied to beat Dixon in the semifinal and dominated Belvidere in the championship.
Kiarra Harris had 19 kills in the win over Dixon, and the Warriors spread the ball around nicely in the championship match.
"We've had players really grow into leadership roles the last couple weeks," Dykeman said. "We started the season strong and then had a lull in the middle of the year. The leaders on this team pulled out of that, and we're really excited about where we can go."