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Members of the La Salle-Peru volleyball team celebrate after the Lady Cavaliers rallied to beat Sterling in Tuesday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division match in La Salle. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Starting out the conference season with a victory is always a positive.
Doing it against the defending conference champion that has just one loss coming in makes it even better.
That’s what the La Salle-Peru volleyball team did Tuesday.
The Lady Cavaliers bounced back from a tough first set to beat Sterling 18-25, 25-21, 25-18 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division opener for both teams.
“Starting the conference with a win against anybody is good,” L-P coach Mark Haberkorn said. “Sterling came in 12-1. They beat us three times last year. It’s a great way to start the conference without a doubt.”
The Lady Cavs had a tough start to Tuesday’s match.
After the first set started as a tight affair, the Golden Warriors put together several serving runs to pull out to a 20-10 lead.
L-P rallied within three points at 21-18 before dropping the first set.
“We got our confidence back,” L-P senior Rachel Hunt said about the first-set rally. “It wasn’t enough (to win the set), but we came back in the second and third, which is good.”
The Lady Cavs came out strong in the second set, taking a 7-3 lead behind a five-point service run by sophomore Taylor Gibson.
Sterling rallied to tie the set at 8-8 and the set was tied nine more times — and the Golden Warriors briefly led 17-16 — but L-P took the lead for good on a kill by Hunt to make it 19-18.
Hunt had three kills in L-P’s last seven points to help force a third set.
“We all tried to keep our attitudes up because once we get down, we tend to lose the momentum,” Hunt said about how L-P bounced back for the second set. “We have to keep the momentum and keep going, and that led us to the victory.”
The Lady Cavs did carry the momentum into the third set, taking the lead for good at 7-6 on a Shana Puetz kill.
“Each game I thought we got a little more comfortable,” Haberkorn said. “I thought we got more in sync and executed better on offense.
“Everybody seemed to execute a little bit better. I thought some of the balls we hit early in Game 1, we just didn’t hit with the authority we need to. I thought with each game our confidence was building.”
Gibson led the L-P offense as she slammed down 13 kills. Puetz put down eight kills, Hunt had six and Ellie Senica contributed four.
“Early Taylor Gibson was leading us,” Haberkorn said. “She was our go-to person. As we got to Games 2 and 3, I thought they tried to focus on Taylor a little more, and that opened up the rest of our offense.”
Katie Olson had 30 assists, while Puetz led the team with 14 digs and three aces. Gibson also had team highs of 15 points and two blocks.
With the win, the Lady Cavs improve to 12-0 overall and 1-0 in the conference. “It means a lot (to beat Sterling),” Gibson said. “We really work hard and it pays off.
“It gives us a lot of confidence (going forward). We have great attitudes. We want to win all the time. I think it just gives us more confidence to keep winning.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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