ROCHELLE — The atmosphere inside the Rochelle Township High School gymnasium was electric after the Lady Hubs pulled off perhaps the biggest stunner in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference this season.
Despite dropping the first game of Thursday evening’s varsity volleyball match against LaSalle-Peru, who entered the match with a 12-1 record, the Lady Hubs fought furiously to keep pace with the Cavaliers. Rochelle capitalized off several LaSalle-Peru mistakes during the match, and behind strong efforts from many Lady Hub players, Rochelle edged the Cavaliers in both the second and third games to win by a score of 21-25, 26-24, 26-24.
Only Rockford Lutheran had taken LaSalle-Peru to three games prior to Thursday’s match. Rochelle improved to 10-6-1 overall and 2-0 in NIB-12 West play with the victory, and the win is Rochelle’s first over LaSalle-Peru since joining the NIB-12.
“It felt so good to get the win,” senior Emma Mehrings said. “One of our goals before the season was to finish first in the conference, and we’ve wanted to beat them over my four years here since they’ve been one of our rivals… This win shows how much we’ve improved since last year and it shows that we’re ready to come out strong.”
The Lady Hubs hung with LaSalle-Peru early in the first game, trailing 9-7 before the Cavaliers extended their lead to 16-10. Rochelle strung together a 10-6 run with the help of two big kills from junior Allison Seebach to cut the LaSalle-Peru lead to 22-20.
The Cavaliers hung on to win the first game, but a series of errors by LaSalle-Peru gave Rochelle a 5-0 advantage to start the second game. LaSalle-Peru tightened things up again with a 7-1 run, but the Lady Hubs were quick to answer. Junior Katie Van Hise had the hot hand on offense, and both she and Seebach combined to play tough defense against LaSalle-Peru’s tall hitters.
“It’s important to not let the other hitters get in your head if they’re taller than you,” Van Hise said. “We just needed to jump high and get our arms up. It was a really exciting match and I’m on cloud nine right now. It’s something you can’t really describe… This win makes a big difference for our confidence and it shows other teams that we should be taken into account.”
Rochelle led 13-10 before LaSalle-Peru went on a 10-5 run to retake the lead 20-18. Senior Abby Tilton stepped in with two big blocks on LaSalle-Peru to help tie the match 24-24 before Mehrings, who finished with a team-high 13 kills for Rochelle, tipped the ball over the net for the final point of the second game.
“We were able to find the open areas with our tips and our rolls,” Mehrings said. “We also found spots to hit the ball down the line.”
LaSalle-Peru started the third game on a 5-0 run before Rochelle rallied and took a 9-8 lead on a kill by Van Hise, who ended with 11 total kills. The Lady Hubs struggled with serve-receives in the middle of the game, allowing the Cavaliers to build a 22-14 lead before Rochelle put itself on track again with an 8-1 run. The Lady Hubs were up to task defensively all night long, as five players finished with 10 or more digs including senior Sarah Craven who led with 18.
Rochelle forced two LaSalle-Peru timeouts over the final points of the match. The Cavaliers took one timeout with Rochelle down 23-20 before a quick 3-1 burst made LaSalle-Peru burn another timeout at 24-23. With senior Kelsey Thompson serving, the Lady Hubs earned three straight points and won the match after a missed dig attempt by the Cavaliers.
“Everybody played with so much energy and that really helped us play better,” said sophomore Clare Green, who recorded 29 assists for Rochelle. “We knew that, even though we lost the first game, we could come back from anything. They weren’t doing anything that we couldn’t handle.”
Seebach had eight kills for the Lady Hubs, while Green added 14 digs. Mehrings and senior Emily Engelkes each totaled 12 digs, with senior Grace Orlikowski chipping in 10 digs. Rochelle will host Sterling on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m.