The red-hot Rock Island volleyball team won its seventh straight match on Tuesday night, beating crosstown and Western Big 6 Conference rival Alleman 25-19, 25-9.
The Rock Island Fieldhouse atmosphere was electric on senior night for the home team, with large and boisterous student sections vocalizing their support for both teams.
Coach Morgan Gray’s Rocks relied on their powerful game at the net, along with proficient passing and ball control to run their conference record to 10-1, 13-4 overall, and remain alone in second place in the Western Big 6.
The improving Alleman squad, coming off a three-set win over Morrison at home on Monday evening, sits at 2-10 in the Western Big 6, and 4-13 for the season.
“We are gaining confidence as the season progresses, and it was important for us to take care of business at home, especially after sweeping Sterling and Galesburg on Saturday,” Gray said. “We refuse to take anything for granted, and our players displayed the intensity and toughness tonight against Coach DeBruine’s Alleman team that we will need in our battle for the conference crown and into the post-season.”
Rock Island senior, Grace Gustafson (14 kills, 6 digs and 3 aces on the night) provided the vocal leadership and punch at the net that the Rocks capitalized on in the first set. The score changed hands multiple times as both teams battled for dominance until three consecutive aces by senior Emily Allison gave the Rocks a 17-14 lead. Rock Island’s three-pass offensive set proved too much in the final stages of the first set for Alleman, as Gustafson and Allison (10 kills, 8 assists, 5 digs, 4 aces) displayed their power at the net.
“One of our goals was to give our seniors a great deal of playing time on senior night, and they came through for us with when the first set was on the line,” said Gray.
The Pioneers are emerging as rough and tumble competitors under Coach DeBruine’s system and displayed their improved ball movement in the first set, exploiting the floor skills of senior Colleen Kenney (16 digs, 1 ace and 1 kill on the night), ball control of senior Anne VanDeHeede (11 assists and 4 kills) and scoring power of sophomore Clair Hulke (6 kills and 1 ace).
Rock Island’s strength from the service line and power at the net, however, allowed the Rocks to pull away to a 25-19 win in the first set.
“It is so important to build a lead in the opening set. Momentum is everything in volleyball, and we were able to do just that by eliminating mistakes and working the ball in position for our hitters to score,” said Gray.
The second set of the night was more to Gray’s liking, what she referred to as “error-free, Rock Island volleyball,” with the Rocks displaying efficiency from the service line and in their offense, and working particularly hard on the defensive side of the court to keep the ball in play to create opportunities.
The Rocks simply refused to allow Alleman to make a serious run in the set, leading by scores of 6-1, 12-4, 20-8 before scoring the final 4 points of the set to win by the score of 25-10.
“We have made great strides this season, and it shows in the spirit and attitude our players bring to the floor each night,” DeBruine said. “Rock Island is a very tough and disciplined team, we were able to remain competitive in the first set, but ultimately could not find our rhythm in the second set. I can’t say enough about our senior leaders, Colleen Kenney and Anne VanDeHeede in particular, they keep their teammates focused on the positive.”
Other major contributors for Rock Island on the night included senior Kayla Rice who was a force at the net in the second set, and had 6 kills, 5 assists and 4 digs on the night. Senior Mackenzie Brokaw contributed 9 digs and 7 assists, and senior Sophia Sigler added 8 assists and 5 digs.
Rock Island has the rest of the week off before facing conference leader Moline on Tuesday, October 5th at the Rocky Fieldhouse. “We are going to take a few days and continue to work on our efficiency, while capitalizing on the momentum we’ve built over the last couple of weeks in order to make a run at the conference title and beyond,” said Coach Gray.