STERLING – At less than full strength, the Sterling team volleyball had been pretty good so far in 2019.
Teams at the Sterling Invitational on Saturday got a glimpse of what the Golden Warriors can do with a full complement of players to work with.
Sterling didn’t drop a game in posting a 5-0 record and taking top honors in its own event. The day marked the return of junior outside hitter Brook Borum, who was coming off a 17-match suspension. Her return to the lineup, coupled with the recent return of libero Lexi Rodriguez from a successful stint competing at the international level, proved to be too much for foes to deal with in Musgrove Fieldhouse and Challand Middle School.
“Now that we’re back together as a team, we can see our strengths and weaknesses, and fix our weaknesses before the postseason,” Borum said. “We just need to get better as a team. I think we’re going to be pretty good this year.”
“We had a countdown of how many games, and finally today it was like, ‘OK, today’s the day,’” Rodriguez added. “We’ve finally got our full team back. This is us. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It felt good to finally have everyone back.”
Sterling (21-5) cruised to wins against Pecatonica (25-3, 25-9), Rochelle (25-12, 25-12) and Rockford East (25-11, 25-8) to win its pool, then took on Fulton in the semifinals. The Steamers met the same fate as the Warriors’ first three opponents, as they fell 25-12, 25-12.
Fulton looked like it might make things interesting in the second set, as it took a 5-3 lead after a kill from Maddie Hodge. Sterling responded with a 10-0 run, which included nine kills and a lift violation. Freshman hitter Grace Egan put down five of the kills in that stretch.
For the Steamers, it was a chance to see how they stood against an elite team.
“Just the experience against a really good team will help us in the postseason,” senior hitter Emily Schipper said. “It will be very beneficial for us. The energy that they have – next play, next play – that’s the best thing that they have. And their hitters are so strong. We can learn a lot from that.”
In the finals, the Warriors took on Newman. The Comets beat Fulton (25-21, 29-27), AFC (25-7, 25-14) and Alleman (25-12, 25-9) in pool play, then downed Metamora (25-20, 25-16) in the semifinals.
The Comets’ run ended in the finals, however, as the Golden Warriors took a 25-20, 25-18 decision. Each set followed the same pattern: Newman was competitive, but Sterling was able to put together a burst and pull away.
In the first set, Newman (19-3) tied the score at 13-13 following a Sterling violation, only to see the Warriors go on an 8-1 run capped by a kill from Borum. The Comets didn’t get closer than four points the rest of the way.
In the second set, a Sterling hitting error again made the score 13-13. The Warriors then put together a 10-0 surge capped by a kill from Egan.
Newman saved four consecutive set and match points on kills from Kiley Sanders to make it 24-18 before a kill from Egan finished things off.
“Going into the game we were like, ‘We know who they are. We’ve seen them before. We played them,’” Newman senior outside hitter Aidan Brown said. “We just need to go out and be confident. They’re a good team, but we stuck with them.”
Brown put down 46 kills in the tournament, and Sanders added 32 to pace the Newman attack. Shae McNeill (53) and Macaire Brown (49) combined for 102 assists. Top diggers included Aidan Brown (55), Macaire Brown (32), Victoria Erickson (29), Sanders (26), McNeill (24) and Erin Kelly (24).
The Comets’ three losses have been to Sterling twice and to Rock Falls, and lessons are there to be learned in such tough matches, according to head coach Debbi Kelly.
“It’s a good gauge to see how we’re going to react to more powerful hitters and a faster game,” Kelly said. “It really can show some of the areas we need to keep working on, that we don’t always see going against some other team. It exposes some areas we need to work on.”
For Sterling, Egan put down 50 kills in the tournament, along with 16 digs. Brook Borum had 36 kills, 20 digs and 10 aces, while Bree Borum dished 115 assists to go with 26 kills and 34 digs. Rodriguez finished with 76 digs and 36 assists.
“Every match is a chance for us to get better,” Dykeman said. “We know there’s areas where we can always improve. We go into every match, no matter who’s on the other side, we want to improve what we’re doing and make ourselves better.”
The Golden Warriors figure to be much better with Brook Borum in the lineup. Dykeman noted her biggest impact won’t necessarily be felt in racking up kills, but in receiving serves. She’ll take some of that burden off of Egan.
“A lot of teams picked on her throughout the season,” Dykeman said of Egan. “So far, she was receiving about 90 percent of all serves up to this point. Being able to put Brook back in that situation takes a lot of serve-receive pressure off of Grace. It strengthens two of our weaker rotations, and takes pressure off of Grace and allows her to swing more freely.”
Fulton bounced back from its semifinal loss to Sterling to slip past Metamora 30-28, 13-25, 29-27 in the third-place match. The Steamers had defeated AFC 25-9, 25-16 and Alleman 25-14, 25-23 in addition to the loss to Newman in pool play.
Hodge had 34 kills, 19 digs and five aces, while Schipper had 30 kills, 40 digs and six aces to pace Fulton. Kylie Collachia dished 93 assists, while Megan Bailey added 27 kills, 13 digs and six blocks.
Bureau Valley finished fifth overall and won the Silver Division by going 4-1. In pool play, the Storm defeated Dixon 25-23, 25-22 and Sterling II 25-22, 25-22, and lost to Metamora 25-22, 25-9.
Bureau Valley then topped Alleman 25-18, 25-22 and Rochelle 25-21, 21-25, 25-16 in the medal round. Top performers for Bureau Valley (17-8) included Lauren Wirth (85 assists, 22 digs, 7 aces, 5 kills), Carly Konneck (17 kills, 28 digs), Molly Bohm (26 kills, 11 blocks, 5 assists), Sam Bohm (15 kills, 5 blocks) and Brooke York (10 kills, 5 blocks).
Dixon went 3-2 on the day. In pool play, it defeated Metamora 21-25, 25-21, 15-4 and Sterling II 25-18, 25-23 in addition to the loss to Bureau Valley.
The Duchesses (11-8) then lost to Rochelle 25-19, 25-23 and defeated Alleman 25-10, 25-17. Brenna Melvin had 46 kills and 41 digs to pace Dixon, while Emma Carlson had 32 kills and 61 digs. Kaitlynn Pfeiffer dished 68 assists, and Tiana Tichler added 16 kills and 15 blocks.