STERLING – With the Maple Leafs hanging around early in both sets of the NIB-12 West opener Thursday night at Musgrove Fieldhouse, the Sterling volleyball team turned to an unlikely source to kick-start its attack.
Genea Garza and Jaylynn Razo proved up to the task, as the two defensive specialists came off the bench and went on serving runs in both sets to get the Golden Warriors going in their 25-15, 25-15 victory over Geneseo.
“I think both Jaylynn and Genea did a really good job of coming off the bench and continuing – even giving us – that momentum to get the lead and open up a gap,” Sterling junior hitter Grace Gould said. “You can look to almost anybody on the court and count on them to help you get out of a funk, and that’s a great thing about our team.”
Garza’s second turn in the rotation helped turned the tide in the first set. Sterling led 12-9 after Grace Gould’s kill for a sideout, and Garza proceeded to reel off six straight points – including a pair of aces – in Sterling’s 13-6 set-ending run.
In the second set, the Warriors (16-0, 1-0 NIB-12 West) trailed 11-10 before a Josi Borum sideout kill, then Garza (9 points, 3 aces) served an ace to start a three-point run, and Razo (8 points, 1 ace) extended
the surge with a three-point run of her own to give Sterling an 18-12 lead.
“We want serving to be a weapon. For us [defensive specialists], we focus on our serves and our passes, and we really take pride in that,” Garza said. “Me and Jaylynn, we both focus on our float serve, and it really screws some people up going at their chest; they don’t really know what to do with the ball. Also, that comes from Coach [Barb] Wolf giving us our signs; we kind of analyze the defense, and if they’re split in two, then we’re going to try and hit that gap and make the decide whose ball it is.”
Head coach Dale Dykeman was singing his servers’ praises after the match, and was pleased to see that Sterling had more aces (7) than service errors (6).
“One of the things we do every practice is serve at our starters, so we get quality reps,” Garza said. “We know if we can ace our starters, we’re going to be able to ace a lot of other people.”
Sterling started off slowly in both sets, as Geneseo (10-4, 0-2) tied the first set 7-7, and later held an 11-10 lead in the second set. The Maple Leafs took full advantage of free balls and Warriors errors in both sets.
But the tough serving seemed to get the offense clicking, and Geneseo had no answer.
“We’re not a really strong serve-receiving team; we do struggle, and we’ve been working on it, especially converting serve receive,” Geneseo coach Casey Komel said. “Whether we have a perfect pass or not, our hitters have to be smart about placing the ball and getting it to the floor. We call it one and done; when you’re in serve receive, you want to be there for one point and then you want to be serving again.
“Sterling has some good servers, and we knew that we were going to struggle a little bit – we practiced some really tough serve receive [Wednesday] to prepare – but just based on how good Sterling is with their serving, I think we played a great match tonight.”
The Warriors’ best offensive weapon was the balance between sister Josi and Bree Borum. Both hit double-digits in assists, and often set each other to keep the Leafs off-balance. Josi had 10 kills and 12 assists, Bree chipped in 16 assists and seven spikes. Bree’s twin sister Brooklyn added nine kills and 10 digs.
“It’s nice to have options, because then I know if I get first ball, there’s always someone that’s going to be there to set it; it’s not going to be a double [hit] or a lift, and we’re going to get a good hit or a kill out of it,” Bree Borum said. “We have confidence no matter who that pass goes to that we can run our offense.
“When we got behind, we just had to pull ourselves together, and be smarter with our hitting and passing. We started talking and limiting our errors, and playing together better.”
After the late surge in the opening set, Sterling closed the second set with a 15-4 spurt, as the Borums combined for eight kills and a stuff block down the stretch.
Grace Gould added four kills, older sister Gretchen spiked two more, and Macie Gebhardt had a pair of stuff blocks. Lexi Rodriguez had 15 digs and three assists. and Kierra Collins also slammed a kill.
“At the beginning of the match, we had a few errors, and we’ve got to stop letting that one error turn into two,” Grace Gould said. “So once we figure that out and clean it up, we’re going to be pretty close to unstoppable.”
Madeline Barickman dished 11 assists for Geneseo, and Cora Varland led the way with four kills. Alex Horne had three kills and a block, Abigail Barickman spiked two kills, and Hannah Himmelman and Emily Pobanz each had two kills and two blocks. Elli Weller (8 digs) and Maggi Weller (5 digs) led the Leafs defense, and Keeli Frerichs (6 points) led the servers.
Sterling def. Geneseo 25-15, 25-15
Star of the match: Josi Borum, Sterling, 10 kills, 12 assists, 5 points, 1 ace, 1 block
Key performers: Bree Borum, Sterling, 16 assists, 7 kills; Brooklyn Borum, Sterling, 9 kills, 10 digs; Genea Garza, Sterling, 9 points, 3 aces; Jaylynn Razo, Sterling, 8 points, 1 ace; Madline Barickman, Geneseo, 11 assists; Cora Varland, Geneseo, 4 kills; Alex Horne, Geneseo, 3 kills, 1 block
Up next: Sterling at Rochelle, 6 p.m. Tuesday