STERLING – Nearly everyone was sweating at a steamy Musgrove Fieldhouse on Tuesday night – everyone, it seems, except the Sterling volleyball team.
The Golden Warriors were cool as cucumbers in rolling to a 25-8, 25-15 victory against Western Big Six foe Alleman. Sterling (9-2, 3-1) had a game plan and executed it, much to the delight of head coach Dale Dykeman.
“We were serving pretty aggressively, and were able to hit some combinations and some seams,” Dykeman said. “The receive defense, looking at film, we thought if we put some service pressure on them, we could slow down their offense. … We saw some things schematically that they did blocking that we wanted to try to take advantage of with our hitters, and it worked well tonight. The girls executed flawlessly, and they’re really starting to play well together with this group.”
Leading the way was freshman outside hitter Grace Egan, who consistently found holes in the Pioneers’ defense and put down a match-high 11 kills. She also had seven digs.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to play with all of these great girls,” Egan said. “I was definitely feeling it tonight.”
Sterling raced to a 7-1 lead in the first set, and was never in any danger of having Alleman catch up. The Pioneers had just two kills in the set, with their other points coming from Sterling errors.
The Golden Warriors finished the set on a 7-1 run, highlighted by two kills from Egan and back-to-back aces from Riley Dittmar to finish things off.
It was more of the same in the second set. Sterling jumped out to a 5-0 lead, capped by a tip-kill from Bree Borum, and the Pioneers were never able to recover from the early deficit.
Alleman did climb to within seven points (20-13) when a kill from outside hitter Sydney Bowling capped a 5-1 run, but a hitting error stopped the uprising, and a kill from Grace Gould made it 22-13.
A nifty cross-court kill from Borum finished things off.
Borum dished 17 assists, and also had six digs and five kills. She was backed by Amayia Hernandez with nine digs, Dittmar with four aces, and Gould with three kills.
For Gould, it was her first front-row action after suffering a left ankle in injury in the preseason, when she landed on a teammate’s ankle during a block attempt. It was a step toward the team getting back to full strength.
Lexi Rodriguez, the team’s libero, is competing for a national junior team in Egypt and is scheduled to return to practice on Monday. She is tentatively slated to return to the lineup Tuesday at Rock Falls.
Outside hitter Brook Borum, like Rodriguez a junior, is in the early stages of a suspension and her return date is TBA. Without those two key players, others are getting opportunities, and in the long run that could be a good thing, according to Gould.
“When you’re thinking about a good team, you think about you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Gould said. “The fact that so many girls have stepped up and filled in those spots is amazing. It shows how truly strong this team is.”
Bowling had five kills and four digs for Alleman (0-6, 0-4), Errin Hoffman (8) and Colleen Kenney (7) combined for 15 digs, and Anne Vandeheede dished seven assists.
Pioneers head coach Andrea Larsen knew her team would be in for a tough task in tangling with the Golden Warriors.
“They’re just smooth,” Larsen said. “From the blocking to the passing to the setting, they looked like a state competitor team. They won state last year, and they’re bringing the talent again this year. They bring pace to the game. I think we challenged their defense a lot, but I also think they challenged our hitters, and that’s where they got the best of us.”
Sterling def. Alleman 25-8, 25-15
Star of the match: Grace Egan, Sterling, 11 kills, 7 digs
Key performers: Bree Borum, 17 assists, 6 digs, 5 kills; Sydney Bowling, Alleman, 5 kills, 4 digs
Up next: Sterling at Galesburg, 10 a.m. Saturday