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Volleyball

Golden Warriors’ bench supplies tactical edge and energy

Contributing off the court

Sterling’s (from left) Macie Gebhardt, Grace Mahoney, Zia Meier, Jordan Thormeyer, Mikaley Smith and Emma Rapp have provided a big boost of energy – and a tactical advantage – from the bench during the Golden Warriors’ run to the Class 3A state tournament this weekend at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Sterling’s (from left) Macie Gebhardt, Grace Mahoney, Zia Meier, Jordan Thormeyer, Mikaley Smith and Emma Rapp have provided a big boost of energy – and a tactical advantage – from the bench during the Golden Warriors’ run to the Class 3A state tournament this weekend at Redbird Arena in Normal.

Six Sterling volleyball players have combined for just 22 kills, 24 digs, nine blocks and eight assists this season, but the other Golden Warriors’ gaudy hitting and assist numbers are a credit to the girls who don’t see the floor too often.

Seniors Zia Meyer,
Mikaley Smith and
Jordan Thormeyer, as well as juniors Grace Mahoney and Emma Rapp and sophomore Macie Gebhardt, have helped the Warriors become the team with the most kills and assists out of the four remaining teams in Class 3A.

Contributions on the court have been scarce for those six this season, but coach Dale Dykeman has given them a pivotal role that has helped the Golden Warriors to a 39-1 record.

They are asked to not just kick back and watch, but to stay laser-focused and find gaps for Sterling’s powerful hitters to shred opposing defenses.

“We needed to communicate more, so that turned into our role in helping the hitters,” Mahoney said. “If we don’t get our energy up, you see it on the floor.”

Libero Lexi Rodriguez will call out openings to the hitters when the Warriors’ bench is on the left side of the court. This means that with setters Bree Borum and Josi Borum focused on the left side, the bench covers the right side of the court.

“Our bench kids are smart. They’ve been around the game and have known it for years,” Dykeman said. “You’ll even hear our bench bark out calls.

“We want them to be tactical, because if we have our bench [focused on] tactics, you know the girls on the court are going to be. It’s easy to cheer and be happy, but when your bench is able to find you a crucial point, that’s when you see the chemistry.”

Though casual volleyball fans might miss the in-depth tactics, it’s quite simple to see how fired up the bench becomes throughout a match.

“Especially when Brooklyn [Borum] or someone else gets a kill off the pin,” Smith explained, “it’s easy to show energy off the bench.”

A big kill often results in Sterling’s starters pointing to the bench, whether it be for pointing out a gap or supplying support.

“During stressful situations, we know it might not be helpful to be yelling,” Rapp said. “But when we need to be brought back up, it’s about making sure everyone is positive.”

Dykeman has seen a noticeable uptick in his team’s energy through five postseason matches thus far, and expects the chemistry to continue at state.

“We tend to feed off each other’s energy,” Thormeyer said, “especially with the crowd. The more people that come out and support us, the more energy we have.”

The raucous atmosphere at Musgrove Fieldhouse provided the Warriors an advantage in their supersectional win over Morton, but it will be much tougher enjoying the same luxury at Redbird Arena.

“No matter if there’s a big crowd or not, we’ll still be able to hype each other up,” Meyer said.

With fellow sophomore Kierra Collins earning a starting role alongside Gretchen Gould in the middle for Sterling, it has allowed Gebhardt to observe more this year before taking on a larger role as an upperclassman.

“It’s a lot faster, and I’ll be better prepared for next year,” Gebhardt said. “The fresh-soph level is much slower, so being able to block at the varsity level, you need to know where to position and when to take off.”

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