PRINCETON – Once the Sycamore volleyball team got momentum rolling its way, there was nothing Dunlap could do about it.
Back-to-back tip-kills from Shaeley McCoy kick-started an early spurt in the first game, and the Spartans never looked back in a 25-17, 25-16 victory in the semifinals of the Class 3A Princeton Sectional.
The Spartans advance to the sectional final against LaSalle-Peru at 7 p.m. Thursday,
“We came out with the mindset that we wanted to be more aggressive,” junior setter Kendra Larson said, “and I really feel like we came out and did that.”
Larson, who had 21 assists, also served an ace and had five of her six service points in the Game 1 run that saw a one-point lead turn into a 13-6 margin. Dunlap (13-19) never got closer than two the rest of the game, only cutting the deficit to 16-14 on Sarah McMillan’s ace.
But a service error went for a sideout for Sycamore (20-20), and Jenee Carlson recorded a kill on a free ball before Gabrielle Wenger bracketed a Dunlap kill with a pair of spikes of her own. She then served two straight points, the second on another McCoy kill, and kills by McCoy and Abby Bartels closed out the game.
“We had heard that Dunlap was a very scrappy team, and we went to the ‘a dig or dive’ philosophy to try and outscrap them,” Sycamore coach Eric Nore said. “They were definitely getting some digs on spikes that are usually down, but I thought we got a little bit of an edge using their mantra for our defense.”
Shannon Maher’s back-row kill started an early surge in the second game, and Wenger followed that with an ace and another point for a 5-2 lead. Mallory Wolf had two kills around a service error, then Matelyn Hayes ripped one of her team-high seven kills for an 8-4 lead.
Dunlap got to within 8-7 and 10-9, but that’s when freshman Cassie Hunt substituted in at the service line. Her ace made it 12-9, then she reeled off six more points – including three more aces – to all but put the game away at 18-9. Hayes had two kills in that run, and Larson added a stuff block.
“It’s a great feeling to know that I have so many options to set it to,” Larson said. “We got a couple of points on some long rallies, and that always pumps us up and gets us going. We carried that through to the end tonight.”
McCoy had five kills, Wolf four and Wenger three to go with four points. Christina Dailey led the defense with 12 digs. The Spartans outpaced Dunlap in kills, 24-13, and forced the Eagles out of their system with strong serving and hard hitting.
“We had issues controlling out first contact,” Dunlap coach Jennifer Bartlett said, “and when we can’t control that first pass, we can’t run our middles. We relied too much on our outside hitters tonight, and Sycamore’s quick pace really got us out of system quite a bit.”