ROCK FALLS – It didn't take long for the Marengo volleyball team to realize it would have its hands full with Bailey O'Brien. And even though the Indians knew it was coming, they didn't have much time to do anything about it once she wound up.
O'Brien, a Rock Falls outside hitter, took a breath a few steps behind the service line, a moment of calm before she was anything but. The ball rose in the air, and O'Brien hammered it over the net and down toward the Marengo players, who couldn't handle the shot.
That shot broke a run of three straight Marengo points, and was just one of many for O'Brien, who tallied numerous kills and digs, and sent powerful shots from all over the floor Thursday evening in a 25-11, 25-16 win over the visiting Indians.
"Bailey is a great all-around player for us," Rockets coach Sheila Mammosser said, "and she was phenomenal tonight."
O'Brien, a junior, finished with eight kills over the two games, and added five digs in a dominating performance, which made the Rockets look as if they were in midseason form during the second match of the season.
O'Brien, who is still adjusting to a leadership role, led the way on the floor, and has seen her play improve each season.
She had always been talented at volleyball, but it wasn't until the end of her eighth-grade year, playing with her No Limits club volleyball team, when she learned to take her serve to a new level.
Coaches saw her vertical ability and power, and worked with her to help transform her into an above-the-net player. The transition was seamless as she learned the new serve with ease. All of a sudden, she was a stronger player with an added skill that translated to her net play as well.
It helped her jump start her volleyball career, and she entered high school with something to offer the varsity squad. She played in the varsity lineup her freshman season, and helped the Rockets to a Class 3A supersectional berth, and has been a key part on the team ever since.
"Not really, it was pretty easy to learn," O'Brien said of her serve. "It's helped me along, and I'm just excited about what we can do this season with this group."
The group is looking for its third consecutive Big Northern West championship and has started that title defense strong. In Thursday's match, that group stunned Marengo in the first game by going on a 15-2 run, after the Indians scored the first three points of the match. The runaway first game was so quick, the Rockets stalled in the second game.
The Rockets (2-0) and Indians traded points for most of the second game, before Rock Falls was able to string together several points late to take a lead, and put away Marengo to complete the sweep.
"Sometimes it's hard to get back at it right away after a fast first game like that," Mammosser said. "It's something we have to work on, but we were able to battle back."
It helped when O'Brien stepped to the service line, as she made it tough for the Indians to set anything up. On the outside, O'Brien and teammate Sydney Arickx combined for 15 kills, making the Rockets look every bit as dangerous and they sounded.
"We're glad Bailey is playing for our side and we don't have to play against her," Mammosser said.
Star of the game: Bailey O'Brien, Rock Falls, 8 kills and 5 digs
Key performer: Chelsi Blair, Rock Falls, 13 assists
Up next: Rock Falls, Dixon, Newman, Bureau Valley, Morrison at Rock Falls Invite, 8 a.m. Saturday