Kaitlyn O'Reilly is out to prove a new-look Burlington Central volleyball team can still be a big-time winner - even if might come in less powerful fashion.
Gone are a pair of Division I hitters, Stephanie Holthus (Northwestern) and Taylor Scully (Niagra). But that doesn't mean the Rockets can't find other ways to win, which they displayed in a hard-fought 25-16, 26-28, 25-22 victory at Kaneland on Tuesday night.
O'Reilly was part of a defensive effort that made it hard for the Knights to find any holes.
"We have really big goals especially with the odds against us this season," O'Reilly said. "We know we are a better defensive team. We are definitely scrappier and have a really balanced offense now where hitters are strong on all sides."
It looked early like it might be a quick night for Burlington Central (2-0). The Rockets trailed at just 1-0 in the first game.
As she did later in the match, freshman Allie O'Reilly baffled Kaneland with her serves. Already leading 8-4, O'Reilly scored 6 straight points to put the Rockets comfortably ahead 14-4.
Kaneland made it a match by pulling out Game 2. In a game that saw 12 ties and both teams miss serves on potential game points, the Knights finally sealed it when the Rockets' Hannah Yoder slipped while getting ready to attack.
The Rockets made 11 hitting errors in Game 2 after just three in the first game.
"We played kind of tense and second-game syndrome and let up a little bit but for the most part I think it was just kind of our errors," Kaitlyn O'Reilly said.
Burlington Central came out sharp in Game 3, this time behind Kaitlyn O'Reilly's serves. She put the first five points on the board with help from kills by Yoder and Amanda Ritchie.
Trailing 17-11, Kaneland again clawed back in. Katy Dudzinski put away a pair of kills on sets from Jessica Lubic to make it 17-13, and after Stephanie Sipinski's tip kill for the Rockets, the Knights capitalized on five straight various Burlington errors to tie the match at 18.
Unfortunately for the Knights, their fifth service error of the third game followed. That was the start of four straight Burlington points - Sipinski producing a block kill and putting away another point on Kaitlyn O'Reilly's feed - for a 22-18 lead. The Knights got as close as 23-21 before Burlington ended the match with Kaitlyn O'Reilly slamming down a Kaneland overpass.
"We were completely fired up and you could tell with our defense," O'Reilly said of the third game. "We played really scrappy in the third game."
Burlington Central found a way to win despite committing 11 more hitting errors in game 3. Rockets coach Marv Leavitt praised Brenda Thasavon's work in the middle blocking some of Kaneland's big hitters. "It was a hard-fought win," Leavitt said. "Whenever you make as many errors as we did you know you have a lot of work to do. But I really like how we stuck together and found a way to get it done. But we are just making way too many errors as a team now."