RURAL STREATOR — Through 46 points of the opening set and 48 of the second, the visiting Serena Lady Huskers and host Woodland Warriors were dead even on the court here at the refurbished Woodland School gymnasium.
The final two points of each set, however, went the way of the Lady Huskers, who found a way to win the rallies that mattered most here in their 25-23, 26-24, nonconference volleyball victory over Woodland.
"That was point-for-point the whole time," said Warriors coach Ginger Walter. "We played really awesome, and I'm proud of (our players) ... but we had some tough calls and some service errors, and (Serena) got the points when they needed them.
Serena (3-3) led most of the way in the opening set, moving ahead behind a six-point service run from senior setter Lyla Thorpen featuring dominating net play from junior Taylor Staton and sophomore Katie Baker. Woodland fought back to tie it 15-15 on back-to-back aces off the hand of Olivia Arroyo, and the teams traded points all the way to 23-23.
A Woodland (4-6) service error — the Warriors' sixth of the opening set and one of 12 on the night — gave Serena set point, and freshman Paige Sexton made it count with a tip off a Baker set for point 25 and the set victory.
Set two played out similarly, though this time it was Woodland taking a lead and the Lady Huskers playing catch-up ... which is exactly what they did at 20-20 on three straight service points from Baker aided by kills from senior Lexi May and Staton. Things eventually got to 23-23, a Sexton kill erased a Woodland set point try, and after a long, intense rally, Thorpen delivered the winner with some trickery — a shoot to the back corner catching the scrappy, save-everything Woodland defense off guard.
"(The final rally of the night) was nerve-racking," said Thorpen, "especially when I pushed it over, because I was thinking, 'Oh, that's going out,' but I just lucked out. I was grateful that (Woodland) thought it was out. I think that's why they stopped.
"I did (a second-hit shoot) earlier in the game, and I knew that it scored and they really weren't playing that corner very much and weren't ready for that."
"We have super strong hitters," said Serena coach Katy Severson. "I'll always think that because I'm their coach, and I see what they do in practice, but when we need points most is when they apply that, and everyone else can see it. I think it speaks for itself in the last six points ...
"When they know it's game time, they put the work in."
Baker (five kills, five assists), Staton (four kills), Sexton (four kills), Kallie Cantlin (three kills, two stuff blocks) and Thorpen (11 assists) led the Serena attack, while defensively it was libero Cheyenne Banister (eight digs).
"We're also a defensively-strong school in all sports and a super scrappy team, but kudos to Woodland," Severson said. "Their libero, I tried serving away from her all night, and there's no serving away from her. She wants that ball, and she gets to it every time."
That libero, Kaitlyn Walter (12 digs), Morgan Schwahn (five digs), Audrey Jenkins (five digs) and Lexi Chambers (five dogs) paced the Warriors defense. On the attack it was Schwahn (four service aces, 13 assists), Arroyo (three aces), Jenkins (three kills) and Ella Sibert (match-best eight kills, one stuff block).
The match was the first event held in Woodland's remodeled gym, as the Warriors have played their previous home games this season at Streator High School. A grand opening will be held for the Woodland community next Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 5:30 p.m.