PECATONICA – In a 2A regional championship with so many tense moments, Oregon volleyball coach Faith McNamee finally began to relax just a little with her team leading late in the second set over Rockford Lutheran, in what turned out to be the clinching game for the Hawks.
“At that point, I knew we would win,” McNamee said. “I looked at our two seniors and knew they wouldn’t let us lose.”
Those two seniors, Gylian Finch and Aleah Wight, were brilliant in a hard-fought 25-23, 25-19 win over the Crusaders. With neither team leading by more than four points, senior leadership was paramount in giving Oregon the edge over Lutheran.
“I just think it’s Oregon’s time. We couldn’t hang with them,” Lutheran coach Amanda Carlson said.
With Wight serving and Finch scoring three straight points on two tips and a kill, Oregon stretched a tenuous lead in the second set to within match point. Wight then set off a wild celebration with an ace to give the Hawks their 10th regional title since 2003, and first in 3 years.
“We didn’t want it to go three games,” said Finch, referring to two other encounters with Lutheran this season. “There was a lot of nervousness, but we played with a ton of energy and laid it all down on the line.”
Finch indicated that part of Oregon’s strategy was to stop Lutheran’s top hitter, 5-foot-10 senior Madison Davis.
“Defense was a really big key,” Finch said. “We focused on their lefty [Davis]. We picked up a lot of her balls tonight.”
Foremost in picking them up was Finch, who led everyone with 20 digs. She also had 15 kills and, for good measure, befuddled the
Crusaders with a precision serving game.
“When they needed No. 2 [Finch], she came through for them,” Carlson said.
In the first game, it was Wight who came through at the most critical juncture. With what looked like a comfortable 24-20 lead, Oregon tried to return a Lutheran ball that likely would have gone out of bounds.
Getting new life, Lutheran crawled back to within 24-23 and had Oregon reeling a bit. But, a Crusader monster kill that would have tied the game was saved by a diving Wight.
Lutheran tried another kill, but this time it was out of bounds and the Hawks escaped with the narrow win.
“I knew we had to get the momentum back,” Wight said. “My specialty is digs. Wherever they go, I have to get them.”
Finch and Wight had plenty of help from juniors Bailey Nelson (15 kills), Jasmine Herbst (30 assists) and McKenna Sadler (6 digs, 3 aces, 2 kills).
“The girls came out confident, and our defense was phenomenal,” McNamee said. “Every point mattered. It’s a good feeling to look at the players, all 14 of them, and know they can do it.”
Oregon advances to its own sectional on Monday to play Orion, a two-set winner over Bureau Valley. The only sectional title in school history came in 2006 – when McNamee was a senior co-captain.
“Winning was huge,” Wight said. “I get tears in my eyes thinking about how overwhelming it is.”
2A Pecatonica Regional final
Oregon def. Rockford Lutheran 25-23, 25-19
Star of the match: Jasmine Herbst, Oregon, 30 assists