— In a game where momentum is king, the Sterling Golden Warriors found themselves on the wrong side of it for far too long Tuesday night.
After a nip-and-tuck start, the LaSalle-Peru Cavaliers seized control late in the first set, then didn’t give it back until late in the second in a 25-20, 25-16 victory over the Warriors in the semifinals of the Class 3A Princeton Sectional at Prouty Gym.
“We’ve had a few motivational talks this season, and we use those to push through and keep fighting back,” LaSalle-Peru senior setter Katie Olson said. “Our motto is ‘Our time is now,’ and we don’t want to look back at what’s already happened in a match, or ahead to what might happen. Living in the moment was big for us again tonight.”
L-P (32-3) will face Sycamore in Thursday’s sectional final, a rematch from earlier in the year when the Cavs beat the Spartans the night after a tough Sycamore loss to Rock Island.
Early on, freshman Kaylee Martin was doing everything in her power to carry the Warriors (29-8). Her kill tied the score at 3, then her ace gave Sterling a 6-4 lead in the opening set.
Cierra Johnson capped a LaSalle-Peru run with a kill to give the Cavs (32-3) a 14-11 lead and force a Sterling timeout. But the Warriors came roaring out of the break, as Martin ripped back-to-back kills and Jamy Trancoso reeled off four straight service points to give Sterling a 16-14 lead and force a LaSalle-Peru timeout.
But that break seemed to be the turning point. Taylor Gibson served three straight points for an 18-16 Cavalier lead, then Ellie Senica’s kill answered a Martin spike to force another Sterling timeout.
The teams traded hitting errors, then Johnson ripped another kill. Kiarra Harris and Taylor Hendrix fought back with kills for the Warriors, but Gibson’s kill finished off the opening set.
The Cavs carried the momentum into the second set. Olson served the first five points, and LaSalle-Peru led 9-3 before Sterling was forced to use a timeout. Olson’s second perfectly-timed and placed tip-kill pushed the margin to 12-4, and the Cavs led 17-7 after Gibson’s ace.
A Harris kill got Sterling to within 18-13, but another service error opened the door for the Cavs. Kills by Puetz, Senica and Gibson restored order for LP, and Gibson’s final kill answered Martin’s last spike before Olson served out the match.
“They’re an aggressive team, and they throw a lot at you and force you to adjust,” Sterling coach Dale Dykeman said. “They’ve got so many weapons, and Olson gets the ball out of her hands so quickly that it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. Their middles really hurt us tonight, and it’s tough to recover when you get behind against a team like that.”
Olson set 21 assists, served eight points, and added three digs to her two nasty tip-kills. Johnson had seven kills, Senica spiked six, and Gibson finished with five kills and eight digs. Puetz chipped in 10 digs and six points, and Rachel Hunt added three kills and a block.
“It’s a great feeling when I can put up a set and know whoever is there is going to put it down,” Olson said. “Everyone did their share tonight, and our defense dug up everything.”
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