AMBOY – Whenever the Forreston volleyball team found Houston in good position, Amboy had a problem.
Alexus Houston, an outside hitter for the Cardinals, put down 16 kills to lead her team to a 25-16, 18-25, 25-13 road victory against the Clippers on Thursday night.
The 5-foot-7 Houston was the Cards’ finisher in the match-deciding third set, when she slammed kills on four of Forreston’s final six points.
“I like being the one they look up to to make a play when we need it,” Houston said. “I think it sets the mood for the team.”
Houston set up on the left side of the net and found herself getting swing after swing against the Amboy defense. That’s just the way Forreston coach Shannon Williams wanted it.
“She’s the best hitter that we have right now, so we like to give her a lot of the touches,” Williams said. “We knew if she could handle it, the middle was wide open. We were trying to break up their defense a little bit so she could go at it offensively.”
It looked like it would be a short night after the Cardinals (19-7, 10-1 NUIC East) were dominant in the first set. Amboy (6-18, 4-8) scored three straight points to get to within 11-9, but it was all Forreston the rest of the way. Lauren Melton had a key block to make the score 20-14, Paityn Broshous followed with an ace, and the Clippers had a hitting error to up the margin to 22-14.
A net violation on Amboy finished off the first set.
As good as Forreston was the first set, Amboy was equally good in the second set. Kyleigh Donna had three early kills to set the tone, then Mallory Powers found her groove. A 5-10 junior outside hitter, she put down six kills in the set as the Clippers held a comfortable working margin the whole way.
Powers had back-to-back kills to make it 23-15, then a hitting error by the Cards’ Houston gave Amboy multiple set points.
Two Houston kills sandwiched around a block by Taylor Greenfield got Forreston to within 24-18, but a tip kill by Amboy’s Brianna Blaine finished things off.
“I think we can use the momentum from this Game 2 to help us with our next few games and into the regional next week,” Powers said. “This is something to build on.”
Amboy hung tough for a while in the third set. A kill by Brooklyn Whelchel, a Forreston net violation, an ace by Whelchel and a kill by Madelyn McLaughlin put the Clippers up 11-9, but Forreston wrapped things up with a 16-2 closing run. All Amboy could manage in that span was a kill from Powers and service error by the Cardinals.
“We’re in the running for conference,” Houston said, “so we knew we needed to pick up our game and go from there.”
Williams would have liked to see her team handle its business a bit quicker than it did.
“It’s like we come out, play well in the first set, and then sit back and wait for the other team to roll over when we have to earn it ourselves,” Williams said. “That’s what happened that second set. When you get down too many against a good team, you’re not going to be able to come back from that. We were lucky enough to bounce back that third set, play better and get the win.”
Kara Erdmann chipped in seven kills for Forreston.
Powers had 11 kills and 12 digs to pace the Amboy effort. Gabby Jones dished 19 assists, Eden Lindenmeyer had 19 digs, McLaughlin had 10 digs, and Whelchel added four kills and an ace.
First-year Amboy coach Ashley Dunlap liked what she saw from her team against one of the conference’s heavyweights.
“It was just our intensity,” Dunlap said. “We’re still working on communication. We’re still working on finishing games from start to finish. I think the girls are starting to buy in to the program, though, and that’s what we need to keep up with Forreston and some of the other good teams in our conference.”
Star of the match: Alexus Houston, Forreston, 16 kills
Key performers: Mallory Powers, Amboy, 11 kills, 12 digs; Kara Erdmann, Forreston, 7 kills
Up next: Amboy at Pecatonica Tournament, 9:30 a.m. Saturday vs. North Boone