ROANOKE – Although some of the luster was taken off with Roanoke-Benson having already clinched the regular season portion of the Tri-County Conference volleyball championship, the Rockets still had something to play for on Oct. 19.
R-B finished 8-0 in the league for the third straight season and extended their TCC win streak to 31 in a row with a 25-16, 25-23 sweep of Ottawa Marquette at Dick Broers Gymnasium.
Capable of putting three players at least 6-foot at the net, OM’s height presented a problem for R-B (16-13-2, 8-0).
“Obviously, blocking is tough. We just had to be more persistent on where the sets were going and be willing to play smart,” R-B coach Jodie Sauder said. “Our tipping was better.”
A service ace from Anna Sypniewski gave the Crusaders (12-13, 5-3) a 12-11 lead in the opening set. Kamryn Kearfott responded with a kill for a tie and ace from Maddy Oltman put R-B on top to stay.
Coming out of a timeout, the Rockets went from passive to aggressive.
“The game plan was to come out aggressive and not fall into their (OM) style of play,” Sauder commented. “They’ve been used to being aggressive.”
OM never got closer than five for the remainder of the set, which ended on a Taylor Monge block.
The second set saw a total of 14 ties and 15 lead changes. Neither squad had a lead of greater than four points.
“When Hope (Haley) went down, we had to regroup and it was hard to refocus,” said Sauder. “I feel like as the season has gone on, they’ve shown mental toughness. When they have been down, they can come back.”
Haley tweaked an ankle late in the first set, but did return in the second.
A block from 6-0 Maggie Hettel (five kills) gave OM a 22-21 lead. A service error from the guests tied it before an Oltman kill, one of her five on the match, gave the Rockets a 23-22 lead. A Hettel kill tied it again at 23 before P. Sauder (six kills) got into the hitting act to boost R-B back out in front. Monge registered another solo block on match point.
According to Jodie Sauder, R-B’s prowess at not letting the ball hit the floor allowed them to extend rallies.
“I feel like our defensive ability has been underrated,” she said. “They’ve worked hard this season. We can outhustle teams.”
Elly Sauder (13) and P. Sauder (11) combined on 24 assists. Oltman served eight points, while P. Sauder added five.
Makena McConnaughhay, the daughter of OM coach Mindy McConnaughhay, had seven assists.
For the hosts, they have won the last three TCC regular season crowns. The R-B coach felt her squad surprised some folks with this title.
“I think people did not expect that from this team,” Jodie Sauder said. “They’ve worked really hard even when they were questioning what we were doing. They did not say anything. They’re all special. They’re all pretty sweet, but I’m happy the way they stay focused.”