LaSALLE – Defending Class 3A state champion Sterling got pushed to a third set, then got pushed in that third set in the Class 3A LaSalle-Peru Supersectional on Friday.
But the Golden Warriors were able to pull out a 23-25, 25-15, 28-26 win to get to Redbird Arena for the second year in a row.
Belvidere North had a match point in the third set, leading 25-24 after an ace by libero Isabella Ruder, but a double-hit against the Blue Thunder on the next point tied the score at 25-25.
Sterling then had a pair of match points after a Grace Egan kill made it 26-25, and later a Belvidere North service error made it 27-26. A hitting error wiped out the first, but Egan slammed down a kill on the second.
“I’m shaking, I’m so excited,” Egan said. “I’m so emotional right now.”
The third set saw Sterling pull ahead early, with back-to-back kills from Brook Borum putting the Warriors in front 5-2, and kills going straight down from her and Egan on back-to-back points to make it 8-3.
But the Blue Thunder (34-4) answered with a kill from Kaitlin Leider and a block from Madison Clark, soon knotting things up at 12-12.
Brook Borum came up with a block and Bree Borum added a kill to put the Warriors in front 15-12, but the Blue Thunder chipped away at the lead.
Belvidere North eventually tied the score 20-20 on a kill from Jayden Flynn, and the teams traded points the rest of the way.
The third set was, in many ways, a replay of the first, as the teams fought through point after point.
“In the first set, they played really hard against us,” Brook Borum said. “We just needed to come out stronger, settle down, play together and take over.”
Belvidere North scored the first two points of the first set, then neither team held a two-point lead in the set again until Leider came up with a kill to make it 24-23 and a Grace Gould hit down the line went wide to end it.
In the meantime, the Warriors and Thunder played through 20 ties, and neither team could put together any kind of a run.
“They were touching us a lot,” Bree Borum said. “They were just playing really clean.”
“It was just kind of a back-and-forth thing,” Belvidere North coach Amanda Carlson said. “We were using some of the knowledge we had gained from watching film, and had a specific game plan to swing to the right side of the court – and it was working. We were passing well, we were serving well, and it was just a nice battle.”
It was in that set that Belvidere North’s Rachel Scott had eight of her 14 kills in the match, along with a block and a hit to tool Sterling’s block.
“We had to make sure we were in front of her and make sure we were pressing over,” Bree Borum said. “And make sure we were doing everything to just get all of her balls up.”
Scott is a sophomore, and in only her second match on the left side after spending the first 36 matches of the season on the right.
“We flipped that against Crystal Lake Central [in the sectional final on Wednesday] and it worked,” Carlson said. “She’s a big kid. We wanted her to be in front of their setter and put up a big block, and we liked what we saw against Crystal Lake Central, so we thought we’d just kind of keep it rolling against Sterling.”
Scott’s tooling of a block came between two points that saw the Warriors try the same tactic. Bree Borum tooled Scott to put the Warriors up 12-11, and later in the set Grace Gould tooled a block by Micaela Bowen to make it 15-14 Sterling.
Sterling was in charge from the start in the second set. A kill from Brook Borum, back-to-back kills and a block from Bree Borum, and an ace from Lexi Rodriguez spotted the Golden Warriors a 9-1 lead before Bree Borum tooled a block to make it 10-1.
Later in the set it was Egan coming through, getting back-to-back kills to make it 18-8, then following a Brook Borum kill with one of her own to make it 20-11.
“We were just keeping them out of system, making them set the ball from the 10-foot line with our hard serves,” Brook Borum said. “I think at the end, it gave us free balls, so we were able to run more plays with them.”
The Warriors were also able to limit Scott in the final two sets, as Belvidere North had to go more to Clark and Ava Irvin.
“We had to push up to the net and make sure we blocked them,” Egan said. “I had to move to the side to make sure I got the line.”
The Blue Thunder lost four matches all season – two of them to the Golden Warriors – but won a sectional title with a roster featuring five sophomores and a freshman.
“I want them to know that they belong here,” Carlson said. “They lost to a really good team, but they’re also talented, they’re also good. I want them to remember the feeling that they had Wednesday night. I want them to remember the feeling when they got out here, and just to remember they belong here. They’re one of the state’s best.”
But in the end, it was the team that went to state with a sophomore-laden roster a year ago that is going back to defend the crown after fighting their way through three sets to get there.
“It makes us ready for what we’re going to see at state,” Brook Borum said. “We’re ready now. We’re ready for the competition now. We’re just excited to get to play together two more times.”
3A LaSalle-Peru Supersectional
Sterling def. Belvidere North 23-25, 25-15, 28-26
Star of the game: Bree Borum, Sterling, 39 assists, 13 kills, 12 digs
Key performers: Brook Borum, Sterling, 25 kills, 20 digs; Lexi Rodriguez, Sterling, 13 digs, 14 assists, 1 ace; Rachel Scott, Belvidere North, 14 kills; Grace Egan, Sterling, 12 kills, 10 digs
Up next: Class 3A state semifinal, Sterling vs. Nazareth, 4 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena, Normal