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Sauk Valley overcomes second-set speed bump for straight-sets victory at home

Skyhawks start strong, finish strong in win

Sauk Valley's Bailey O'Brien (right) hits the ball past a block by Black Hawk's Kyleigh Emery during Wednesday night's game at Sauk Valley Community College.
Sauk Valley's Bailey O'Brien (right) hits the ball past a block by Black Hawk's Kyleigh Emery during Wednesday night's game at Sauk Valley Community College.

DIXON – The Sauk Valley volleyball team cruised in the first and third sets Wednesday night, but nearly stumbled in the second.

Black Hawk took several leads in the second set before the No. 8 Skyhawks turned things around, pulling out that set and then the match for a 25-11, 25-20, 25-11 win.

“We really had to pick up the energy,” SVCC sophomore hitter Bailey O’Brien said. “We won by a lot in the first game, so we were just playing down to their level [at the start of the second set]. But then once we got going, got a couple kills, it went from there.”

Black Hawk jumped to an early lead in the second set with a kill from Rachel Jacobson and a Sauk hitting error. The Skyhawks eventually fought their way to a 7-4 lead on the strength of kills from Tori Smoode and Hannah Peterson, but the Braves answered by scoring the next seven points. A Megan Olson block capped off the run to make it 11-7.

“I just tell the girls to go out and have fun,” Black Hawk interim head coach Kelli Nitz said. “I think we just started off a fresh game. We were communicating a lot more. I think that helps mentally.”

Sauk Valley (24-4, 8-0 Arrowhead Conference) briefly rallied to pull even, a pair of O’Brien kills sandwiching a block from Gwen Lohr-Fandel to tie the set 12-12. But the Braves then went on another run, with a tip from Nicole Stoddard putting Black Hawk up 20-17.

That’s when Sauk Valley took control. Peterson had a kill, and a Braves net violation cut the Black Hawk lead to 20-19. Then the gym itself came into play as Black Hawk’s Kyleigh Emery tried to bump a serve from Sommer Rhea and it bounded into the ceiling, hitting a rafter and coming straight back down to the ground before another Braves player could get there.

O’Brien and Peterson then took turns with kills to finish off the set.

“They’re a very quick team. They have a lot of fast plays,” Nitz said. “They’re very scrappy. They’re just an overall solid team.”

Nitz is serving as interim head coach for the Braves following the Sept. 30 death of longtime Black Hawk coach Mary Davis. Before the match, there was a moment of silence for Davis, and Sauk Valley players presented flowers to Nitz.

Once the match got under way, Sauk was all business. The Skyhawks jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first set with a kill from O’Brien and a block from Peterson and Smoode.

The Braves (8-12, 4-4 Arrowhead) got on the board when a hit from Peterson went long, but Peterson made up for it on the next point with a kill.

SVCC later extended the lead from 7-3 to 11-3 with four consecutive kills from O’Brien, Mackenzie Skoumal, Rhea and Lohr-Fandel. The Skyhawks had a 7-0 run later in the set, with O’Brien capping that run off with a tip to make it 22-7. O’Brien ended the first set by slamming down a Braves overpass.

In the third set, the Skyhawks got a block and a kill from Skoumal early to jump out to a 6-3 lead. Sauk Valley had a pair of 5-0 runs during the set before O’Brien ended the evening with back-to-back aces.

“We knew we had to come out and play strong because Black Hawk has been good the last few games,” Peterson said. “We had to come out hard and strong. We had great passing to begin the game. Great passing, great sets, and that makes it easier for us hitters.”

O’Brien had 21 kills and 12 digs for Sauk Valley. Peterson added 11 kills and three blocks. Rhea had 10 kills and 16 digs. Kacey Koch had 22 assists, with Paige Conner chipping in 21.

“Our outside hitters are tough to stop,” Sauk Valley coach Jay Howell said. “It was just a day at the office for Bailey O’Brien.”

College volleyball

Sauk Valley def. Black Hawks 25-11, 25-20, 25-11

Star of the game: Bailey O’Brien, SVCC 21 kills, 12 digs

Key performers: Hannah Peterson, SVCC 11 kills, 3 blocks; Kacey Koch, SVCC 22 assists; Paige Conner, SVCC, 21 assists

Up next: Sauk Valley at Waubonsee, 6 p.m. today

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