ROANOKE – Until someone in the Tri-County Conference hands them a loss, Roanoke-Benson is the favorite. Their win streak currently stands at 40 matches in a row, as the Rockets (19-10, 9-0) wrapped up a fourth straight title in 2018.

According to head coach Jodie Sauder, she is attempting to keep it on the down low.

“I have not mentioned that to them,” said Sauder in terms of R-B not having suffered a league setback since ‘14. “I’m trying not to put all of the pressure on them. We’re going to take it one opponent at a time,”

 Their ‘18 season ended with a 25-22, 25-14 defeat in a regional final to host and eventual one A runner-up, Hartsburg-Emden (36-5).

R-B graduated two players in three-time first team TCC choice in setter/hitter Paige Sauder (182 service points, 155 kills, 122 digs), the coach’s daughter, along with outside hitter Madalyn Oltman (172 kills, 316 digs, 129 points).

The Rockets will build around a trio of juniors in outside Kamryn Kearfott (172 kills), libero Brynn Rossman (331 digs, 132 points) and setter Maddie Monge (250 assists, 136 points).

“Our junior class is one of our biggest classes,” said Jodie Sauder, who is in her fifth season at R-B with a 76-44-2 record. “With only two seniors, we’re definitely relying a lot on them (juniors) with their experience.”

According to the coach, the switch of Kearfott from the middle to the outside before her sophomore season has paid dividends.

“She’s had better success on the outside,” commented Sauder, “I think she feels more comfortable.”

Also back are senior outside Whitney Leman and a pair of sophomore middles in Frannie Heckman, the daughter of assistant coach Jen Heckman, and Chaysea Wood.

It appears the Rockets’ main challenger for conference supremacy will be Seneca, which won the league tourney in ’18. The Irish went 31-6-1 and advanced to the supersectional round in two A.

“I’m assuming Seneca is. We only play them once and we only see their JV (junior varsity) once,” noted Sauder, “Peoria Christian might be. I feel like they have a lot coming back.”

Seneca ended up in a three-way tie for second at 7-2 with Ottawa Marquette (23-12) and Peoria Ch.

Jodie Sauder, who normally has nine or 10 players on the varsity, has increased that number to a dozen.

“I’m dressing some JV players just to have them on the bench,” she said, “to have for any substitution options.”

R-B gets going Thursday at Lexington with a 6:45 p.m. start. The remainder of the schedule is listed below (all non-invites matches start around 7:15 p.m. unless noted);

Sept. 3: versus Flanagan-Cornell

Sept. 5: @ Eureka, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 9: vs. Peoria Heights

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Sept. 12: @ DePue*

Sept. 16: @ El Paso-Gridley

Sept. 17: vs, Lowpoint-Washburn*

Sept. 19: @ Midland*

Sept. 21: Knight Invite, pool play matches @ Minonk & Wenona

Sept. 23: vs. Fieldcrest

Sept. 26: @ Peoria Ch.*

Sept. 28: Knoxville Invite

Oct. 1: vs. OM*

Oct. 3: vs. Putnam County*

Oct. 8; vs, Midwest Central @ Manito

Oct. 10: vs. Woodland*

Oct. 12, 15 & 17: TCC tourney @ L-W

Oct. 22: @ Henry*

Oct. 24: vs. Seneca*

Oct. 28-29 & 31: Regional

*-TCC match

Notes: PH is back on the schedule, while the Rochelle Invite is off. Midland ended up with 20 wins a season ago, as they joined Seneca and OM in reaching that plateau. Leman and Rossman will serve as co-captains.

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