OTTAWA — It was a very successful night in a number ways here at Kingman Gym in Tuesday night's Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference crossover match between Ottawa and Morris.
For the second straight year, the Lady Pirates held their Volley for Veterans night, which included acknowledgment of veterans with Ottawa and Morris players escorting them onto the floor prior to first serve as well as several raffles and a special national anthem.
Ottawa (8-17-2) then captured a rally-filled opening set and closed things out in set two for a 28-26, 25-22 victory over Morris (12-19-1).
This year's proceeds will go to Dark Horse Lodge, a nonprofit organization in Springville, Tenn., fundraising to build a lodge to serve as a retreat for combat veterans of all branches. Once completed, the lodge will include five five-bedroom guest cabins, each room named for one of the 25 men lost from the Marine Corps 3/5, Darkhorse unit.
"I think we raised right around the same as we did last year, which was $3,100, and that is not including the $1,000 donations combined from the Ottawa VFW and Ottawa American Legion," said Ottawa coach Jenn Crum. "We kept things pretty much the same from last year, because the best part is the girls like to walk out with the veterans.
"We had different veterans here tonight than last year, and with each one of these we try and branch out and involve more people. Morris also had some girls walk with veterans as well, so it made it a really great night with our communitties coming together for a really great cause.
"When I was doing research on Dark Horse Lodge, I discovered one of their board members, Jerry Olson, lives in Bryon. He literally changed his schedule and dropped everything to be able to come."
Morris coach Taylor LaFond said she was excitied to part of a special night.
"Coach Crum contacted us at the beginning of the season and asked us if this would be something we would be interested in doing," said LaFond, who said her roommate a few years ago married a Navy guy. "We love doing these types of events and giving back to the community any way we can. I think it's important to show the girls that it's more than just a game and how important it is to give back to a great cause."
Senior middle hitter Toni Froisland said she was really looking forward to this night.
"My uncle served in the Navy, and he was on my mind a lot tonight," said Froisland, who had five kills and a block in the win. "I love that we do this, and after doing it the first time last year, I couldn't wait for this night.
"It's so awesome that in a small way we can honor our veterans, and hopefully they know how much we appreciate their service."
After the pre-match ceremony, Froisland said there was only one thing left to do.
"We huddled up before the start of the match, and we all said we're going to forget about everything, our season record, our last match, everything, and just play for the great men and women who we honored and came here to watch us tonight," Froisland said. "I think this was maybe one of our best overall matches of the season."
The opening set was tied at 4-4 before an eight-point service run by OHS's Lily Miller — including three of Erin Rombach's match-high 11 kills and a pair of aces. Morris then scored 18 of the next 21 points to lead 22-16 and had serve on set point, but the Lady Pirates had the answer. Ottawa posted six straight points, including two kills each from Ashley Mauk and Rombach, to knot things at 24-24. From there the teams traded points until a winner from Jenna Nink (five kills) and a Morris net violation closed it out.
The Lady Pirates held leads of 10-1, 15-5 and 21-12 in the second set. Morris was able to get within two, trailing 24-22, but Nink's winning swing from the left side ended the night on a high note for Ottawa.
Kaylee Burgwald led the Lady Pirates defense with 13, while Molly Harris and Miller combined for 21 assists.
"The end of the first set is exactly what we are trying to overcome," said Crumm. "When a few points don't go our way, especially in critical moments, it snowballs on us. Tonight we were able to overcome that and finish things out, which was the first time this season we have been able to really do that. It was amazing to see, and we now have to build off that.
"We needed tonight."