ROCK FALLS – After a back-and-forth beginning, it was like Rock Falls just flipped a switch.
In the Rockets’ Big Northern Conference opener at Tabor Gym on Thursday, they went from trading punches early with the Oregon Hawks to rolling in every phase of the game in a 25-10, 25-15 victory.
“We talked about coming out hot and setting a rhythm, and as soon as that happened, and we get in that rhythm and get going, I feel like it’s so much easier for us,” Rock Falls senior middle Kenzie Olson said. “Because then the defense works together to get the ball up to the setter, and it’s easier for us to put the ball away at the net.”
The teams traded the lead five times and forged six ties in the first 12 points of the match. But then Rock Falls (8-2, 1-0 BNC) took the lead on an Olson block, and led 9-7 after a hitting error.
That’s when freshman Maya Sands got to work. She smashed a kill for a sideout, then easily handled two Oregon overpasses before spiking another kill for a 13-7 Rocket lead.
“We really started being aggressive with our swinging, and we got good passes up to our setters to run our offense,” Sands said. “We really communicated a lot in the back row, and I thought our ‘Rowdies’ [student
section] helped us too.”
Hannah Donaldson and DePaul recruit Bailey Nelson ripped kills to bring Oregon (6-3, 0-1) back within 15-9, but that was as close as it got. Vanessa Romo spiked a kill, Elise Moeller and Maya Sands added kills, and Romo slammed another one for a 20-10 lead.
Moeller then finished off the set with three kills in the final four points, with Romo providing the other. After trailing 6-5, Rock Falls outscored Oregon 20-4 for the rest of the set.
“It was really big to set the tone like that,” Moeller said. “We stayed very aggressive at the net, and that’s only because of our back-row play. Our back row was able to get the ball up to our setters, and our setters were able to execute our offense. All we had to do was our job, just putting the ball away.”
The Rockets never trailed in the second set, as back-to-back aces by Maya Sands gave them a 4-0 lead right out of the gate. An Olson block, back-to-back kills by Maddie Sands, and kills by Olson and Morgan Mandrell made it 10-3 and forced an Oregon timeout.
Olson then had a kill, a block and a tip-kill before Maya Sands slammed one for a 14-4 lead. The Rockets led by at least seven points the rest of the way, and kills by Maddie Sands, Olson and Mandrell got the Rockets to match point. A back-row kill from Nelson staved it off for one point, but a tip-kill by Maya Sands ended things.
“Once we start getting more aggressive and communicating more, it’s kind of like a ripple effect,” Rock Falls libero Madison Arickx said. “Everyone starts getting more excited, and then that just makes our entire play better.
“We came out a little timid, but then a few points in we started to really communicate and do what we needed to do,” she added. “We got it under control and got organized, and once we really started communicating and celebrating, that was the big thing that flipped the switch for us.”
Moeller and Maya Sands each had eight kills to lead the Rockets, Olson added five kills and three stuff blocks, and Romo and Maddie Sands finished with four kills each. Maya Sands added 12 digs, nine points and three aces, and Maddie Sands chipped in eight digs and eight points. Arickx had five digs, Mandrell spiked three kills, and Emalie Chavira (15 assists) and Audra Goff (11 assists) combined for 26 assists on the Rockets’ 32 kills.
Nelson paced the Hawks with six kills and two blocks, and libero McKenna Sadler had a team-high five digs. Jasmine Herbst and Ella Martin each dished four assists, and Abigail Hopkins chipped in four digs. Hannah Donaldson finished with three kills, a block and five points, and Jenae Bothe stuffed two blocks.
“I think that we gave up. We just gave up and started playing timid and shy and like individuals, and it was game over,” Oregon coach Faith McNamee said. “It’s a teaching experience, and I hope it’s a learning experience as well. When things get what we feel like are too hard, we just shut down, turn it off, and we don’t rally back, we don’t fight back.
“Two matches ago we played Stockton, and it was the best game I’ve seen in years out of Oregon volleyball. And then two matches later, we play like this. I think it’s a roller coaster – as are all sports – and I think it’s a great learning experience for the girls, if they take it as one.”
Rock Falls def. Oregon 25-10, 25-15
Star of the match: Maya Sands, RF, 8 kills, 12 digs, 9 points, 3 aces
Key performers: Elise Moeller, RF, 8 kills; Kenzie Olson, RF, 5 kills, 3 blocks; Maddie sands, RF, 4 kills, 8 digs, 8 points; Bailey Nelson, Oregon, 6 kills, 2 blocks
Up next: Rockford Lutheran at Rock Falls, 6 p.m. Tuesday; Oregon at Pecatonica, 7 p.m. Tuesday