STILLMAN VALLEY – Aurora Rosary cruised to a win in the first set of its Class 2A Stillman Valley Regional semifinal, then held on as Oregon battled the Royals throughout the second set.
Late in the second set, Paige Gardella came up with a tip to break a tie. Kills by Brianna Picchietti and Jessica Gardella followed, and Rosary pulled away late to beat the Hawks 25-13, 25-20.
After dropping the first set, Oregon fell behind early in the second as Molly Sullivan and Paige Gardella came up with kills and Jessica Gardella served an ace. But Oregon stormed back. Back-to-back miscues by the Royals gave Oregon two points and put Hawks freshman Sophia Stender at the service line. She served an ace.
“Her serves helped us a lot,” Oregon senior Alice Stenico said. “It gave us so much energy and effort and will to put everything we had in the game.”
Stender was just called up to varsity this week after spending the season on the fresh/soph team.
“She sat on our bench all weekend, and we were struggling with one of our middles serving and then playing defense. We weren’t scoring in that rotation,” Oregon coach Faith McNamee said. “So then we looked to our bench and thought about what options we had, and she was a great option. I’m sure that was a good confidence boost for her, and it was really nice to see us able to pull somebody up and for them to show us what they’ve got in the postseason.”
Oregon (21-13-1) trailed in the second set 14-7 before a Royals’ service error followed by an Ella Martin ace and a pair of kills from Stenico cut that deficit to 14-11. Ava Wight added a kill of her own before Rosary answered with a pair of kills to extend the lead back out to 17-12. But Oregon bounced back again, getting two more kills from Stenico and a slew of hitting errors by Rosary, a spike from Picchietti sailing long to tie the score at 17-17.
“I think we started to adjust a little bit and figure out where we needed to pull our middle-back defense in order to get some of the balls up,” McNamee said. “We started to minimize our errors. I think we just started to play with energy and effort and give 100%.”
But the Royals (21-14) were able to answer to close out the set thanks to their well-rounded attack and solid defense. Sullivan was able to win a 50-50 ball at the net for the final point, one of two the Royals came up with in that set.
“Their block was very tall, and it was very solid too,” Stenico said. “That made us play harder, and it was really difficult to go over it and avoid it. Their defense was very good. Their libero [Sarah Konovodoff] is very, very good.”
Stenico had five kills, but many of her best swings wound up dug up by Konovodoff. Martin had eight assists and eight digs. Lyndi Kenney had seven digs.
Paige Gardella had 10 kills for Rosary. Picchietti had five, and Jessica Gardella had four.
“We stopped trying to make the big plays and just made the right plays,” Rosary coach Bill Allen said. “Seeing open spots when the ball’s towards those open spots, making the defense move instead of just trying to hit every single ball.”
Rosary got contributions from just about everyone in the attack in the first set. Paige Gardella had a pair of kills, and Sullivan had a block and a kill to open the match with a 4-0 lead. Oregon got the deficit down to three on a Brenna Noon tip to make it 7-4, but the Royals launched another run and soon put the game away.
“We expect all of our hitters to be able to put the ball down at any time,” Allen said. “We don’t think twice about spreading the ball around. We have confidence in all of them.”