Burlington Central coach Marv Leavitt probably summed it up best.
“Volleyball is a strange game,” he said. “Momentum happens. Once they got on their ride, it was hard to stop them.”
Leavitt’s Rockets entered Tuesday’s Class 3A Rochelle Sectional semifinal with a 31-6 record but were shocked by Dixon 18-25, 25-20,
The Duchesses (15-18) advance to Thursday’s title match against Marian Central, which needed three games to knock off a young but game Rosary team, 25-10, 29-31, 25-15.
Dixon, playing in its first sectional since 2005, got a block kill from senior outside hitter Haley Fitzsimmons to close out the second game and a pair of them from 6-0 junior middle Phoenix Smith to account for the match’s final two points after it appeared the Rockets might battle back from a 23-18 deficit in the final game.
“We had 40 unforced errors and that’s not typical for us,” Leavitt said. “(Dixon) came up with plays when they needed to. Two things were a difference in the match. Those unforced errors and us just not being able to get on a run.
“Even in the first game, we had 11 unforced errors.”
Junior middle Alexis VanHiel had eight kills and senior outside hitter Alyssa DeTamble seven to lead the Rockets, who don’t have a regular taller than 5-10.
“Their whole team was able to keep the ball in play; they were pretty scrappy,” senior setter Maddie Barry (11 assists) said of the Duchesses. “Especially (sophomore libero) Jessa Long. She got everything up.”
Senior outside hitter Amy Rotella led Dixon with 10 kills, middle Jamaie Altenburg added five kills, Long had 18 digs and Kacey Koch 20 assists.
“We were statistical underdogs but we played the match of our lives,” Dixon coach Bunyan Cocar said.
Experience was definitely the difference in the opening semifinal, Rosary coach Rachel Hartmann said.
Her Royals (20-17) who play a number of sophomores in the rotation, got even younger when senior middle Michaela Ping missed the match due to the flu.
“I know she wouldn’t miss unless it was pretty bad,” Hartmann said.
“Her sister (junior Rachel Ping) filled in well, but Michaela is like the glue for us.”
Marian Central (24-14) broke from a 5-5 tie in the opening game and built an 18-7 lead with a 13-2 run to take control.
The second game was a different story with Rosary taking a 21-16 lead, then holding on to win the see-saw battle that featured ties at 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29 before Marian hit the ball into the net and sophomore Meegan Hartt followed with the game-winning kill off a quick set from Brooklyn Martner.
“I think our age and (lack of) maturity showed in that first game,” Hartmann said. “You could tell we were nervous and weren’t executing.
“In the second, we took it and ran with it. After we won that one, the kids were so riled up they let the first few points (of the last game) slip away from them and didn’t take it slow.”
Sophomore Erin Burke led the Royals with 10 kills, Hart had five kills, Martner 12 assists and Martha Konovodoff 29 digs.
Junior Sydney Nemtuda led the Hurricanes with 10 kills. Sarah Schaefer and Rachel Giustino added six each.