Rockets know how to throw a party
TOLONO — A feel-good night concluded with a happy ending.
With Hall of Fame coach Liz Osborn watching from the bleachers — on the evening the Unity High School gymnasium was named in her honor — the Rockets rallied from a one-set deficit Tuesday to top LeRoy 13-25, 25-15, 25-11 in the volleyball opener for both schools.
Unity's sluggish start was understandable for head coach Sarah Eisenmenger.
"We were too excited in the first game," said Eisenmenger, who met Osborn for the first time prior to the varsity match. "We hyped this game up quite a bit. We wanted to perform for her and have a little of her legacy shine through.
"We corrected one or two little things, and in the second game, we were ready to go."
Sophomore McKenzie Krutsinger, whose job as a setter is to assist her teammates, lent a hand in a non-traditional way. She landed a match-high 11 service aces — tying her for the 10th-best mark in IHSA history — with nine of her aces coming in the final two sets.
"She's a big softball player, and we know she has a good arm," Eisenmenger said. "We count on her. Our setters, McKenzie and Taylor (Stumborg) had a lot of good serves. They broke through under pressure.
"I've never seen two kids light it up like that."
Stumborg served two aces to go along with her team-high 11 assists.
Krutsinger finished off Set 2 by serving the final eight points, four were on aces, including the final two points.
In Set 3, she had three aces in a four-serve span.
The win is one Eisenmenger won't soon forget.
"To be the team that wins on her (Osborn's) day back here feels good," she said. "She would not have known what to do if we'd have lost. I feel very honored and blessed to have met her."
Osborn, who retired in 1996 and now lives near Effingham, received two standing ovations during the prematch ceremony. Speaking to the audience, she said it was somewhat fitting that the gymnasium be named after her.
"In my 72 years of living, I spent more time in this gym than anywhere else in the world," she said. "It was my home.
"I'm moved by this event happening."
Krutsinger, who also had six assists and four kills, was not the only Rocket to excel.
Joan Maxwell, the lone senior in the starting lineup, was a spark plug on defense and also had four kills from the back row.
"I've talked her up (in the preseason), and she did every part of what I asked of her," Eisenmenger said.
The offense she received from her libero was not unexpected.
"She is probably the most versatile person on the court," Eisenmenger said. "She could be a setter, if I needed her to be, or she could be a middle hitter.
"She ranks very high in the conference (Okaw Valley) among defensive players. She plays anywhere and plays it well."
Sophomore Rebecca Maxwell led the Rockets with seven kills. Another sophomore, Hannah Stone, collected five kills.
The 10th-grade class is part of a unit that advanced to the elementary school state tournament as seventh-graders. Now, they are collectively trying to make an impact on the varsity.
"They are working to prove their place (in the lineup) and trying to claim it," Eisenmenger said.
Barring unforeseen developments, Unity will end the year unbeaten in Liz Osborn Gymnasium. The Rockets' other nine varsity matches are set to be played at the adjacent Rocket Center.
Junior AshLynn Cowles led the Panthers with seven kills and two aces.
Sophomore Kaylin Vallero also totaled seven kills.
News-Gazette area volleyball Top 10
1. Centennial Six starters among 13 letter winners
2. Tri-County Seven starters among eight letter winners
3. Blue Ridge Five starters among nine letter winners
4. Bismarck-Henning Six starters among eight letter winners
5. Schlarman Four starters return
6. Clinton Six starters among seven letter winners
7. St. Joseph-Ogden Two starters among nine letter winners
8. St. Thomas More Four starters return
9. Champaign Central Three starters among six letter winners
10. Mahomet-Seymour Two starters among five letter winners