by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Looking to get back in the mix after dropping its first match Saturday, the Rockwood Thunder 17 Elite (MO) played a steady brand of volleyball and took a one-game lead against Sunshine South Bay (CA) at the Triple Crown NIT.
And when Sunshine began to fly around and scrap and scuffle for every point in Game 2, the Thunder turned up the dial themselves, coming back from a 17-14 deficit to power ahead and claim the victory, 25-20, 25-21.
Jordan Iliff (a Missouri commit) gave Rockwood a great base to start with, punching kills and quality serves as her squad took a 17-12 lead in Game 1 that forced a Sunshine timeout. The California team responded with four straight points, but too many mistakes blunted the rally, and Rockwood swept it up with winners from Anna Taylor and Alexa Harris.
Sunshine definitely got inspired in Game 2, as Amanda Burns began to pound her way to multiple points, with Breonne Benoit also driving the offense. That's when Rockwood measured up in the moment, doing great work at the net to maintain a say-so in what was happening.
"We talked a lot about confidence, that was a big thing for our team. We had to play together more in that situation, and had what we needed to shake off (bad points) and play better," said Lana Gerard, who showed up in multiple moments, including kills that kept the score tied at 17-all and 18-all in the second set, along with a kill to make it 22-20 for the Thunder. "It did get a bit snug, but we went back to the basics and thought about, maintained that confidence. I'm the only new piece of the team this year, but I did play with them two years ago, and our chemistry is great.
"Our defense is the strongest part of our game, but our ability on offense to run a lot of different things with our lineup across the front is huge."
Which is where Iliff definitely factors in -- the rangy left-hander was difficult to slow on her serve, and she was there for many big swings, including a winner off an overpass to give Rockwood a big 24-21 lead in the final game.
"The biggest piece of our game is picking each other up. It got tight, Sunshine started playing scrappy, and I think we really had to come together and play as one instead of as individuals," Iliff said. "I am used to having the pressure and accountability on me, and I think it's something that drives how I play. That pushes me harder, for people who need me to play hard.
"I definitely think being left-handed is super cool. I'm very lucky, because not many people are. There are a lot of right-handed right sides, and that's not easy to do. I'm very lucky; it's not easy to block or defend, and that really helps my game."
"At the end of the day, we play an emotional roller coaster game sometimes, and the last couple weeks we've done a better job calming ourselves," said Rockwood coach Billy Rhodes. "We might be a little undersized, we are very explosive. We do a good job digging balls as well, and allowing the attackers to get good swings.
"Jordan brings a lot both on and off the court; she's working through the flu right now, so she's not feeling her best. But she's digging a bunch of balls, too, which is something she's worked hard on the last couple months, and definitely a go-to attacker."