FOREST CITY | It was a difficult, but dominant three-set sweep for the Forest City Indians.
The Indians defeated Algona in straight sets 28-26, 25-10, 25-23.
Behind junior outside hitter Kelsey Koch, the Indians held the lead for the better part of the first set. Algona’s arms-to-the floor defense didn't hold up as Koch placed the balls in the gaps down the line, sharp cross or just behind the 10-foot line.
“She does a good job of seeing the other side,” head coach Lacy Jerome said. “She knows where the defense is. She doesn’t always have to hit hard.”
Koch put up six kills in just the first set, tallying 16 total for the match. It wasn’t just the hitting that was impressive, Koch added 18 digs on defense.
Algona wouldn’t see Koch coming until it was too late. After her pass, Koch transitioned to the outside, the fake-out approaches by the right side hitter and middle blocker tricked the Bulldogs. When the high-outside set came, Koch had few opposing her.
It’s a classic volleyball fake, but it worked every time.
“I was behind the ball,” Koch said. “So, it helps a lot to get behind it and to know where shots are.”
The Bulldogs stayed in reach behind outside hitter Abbey Holmes. Holmes picked up balls that seemed doomed, or ran past her coach to recover an off-court shank, tying the set 23-23.
Senior Hannah Anderson shot a ball out to give the Bulldogs a 24-23 edge, but Koch’s deep cross kill brought the Indians back in contention 24-24. The Indians had the advantage next on 26-25, but a kill by Holmes tied it back up 26-26. Forest City took the set from there, closing it out 28-26.
The second set had a different pace. The Bulldogs dropped to a 19-5 deficit on watched balls, confused plays and attack errors. The Indians played steady as junior Cora Holland took her reps at outside, slamming four kills to her total of 10. By the time the Bulldogs had serve, sophomore Molly McCauley shot too far on her second attempt, giving the ball back to the Indians for an easy finish 25-10.
The roles seemed to reverse in the third set as the Bulldogs took a 16-6 lead. Algona was back to their first-set pace behind a consistent passing-game, enabling a more versatile offensive scheme.
McCauley piled on two consecutive quick-set kills at middle blocker. Sophomore Aliyah Buscher traded reps at setter with sophomore Shaylen Knapp, but when she rotated to front row, she swung for three kills.
“It’s really important to stay on top the whole time,” Koch said. “Don’t just let up because it’ll get a big gap and we’ll have to fight harder.”
And that’s what the Indians did.
After breaking serve, senior Becca Seglem renewed the energy, sending over bullet float-serves for two straight aces, 16-10. Forest City stayed patient after losing the next point, going on a five-point run to close the gap, 18-15.
At 23-18, the Bulldogs got defensive, sending over free balls and tips trying to stay alive, while Forest City took their shots on easy balls.
Algona had their chance at 24-21 after a controversial touch-call on Forest City.
But the Indians played smart, moving to a 24-23 score. Sophomore Emma Hovenga shot up for a key block out of middle, sending the Bulldogs scrambling only to overpower the ball for a 24-24 tie.
From there, the Indians took their first lead at 25-24. Koch added the finishing touch with a swing at right side. Holmes, unable to close her block, shanked the ball left for a match point 26-24.
“I appreciate the challenge, that’s good for us to have something to work on,” Jerome said. “We lost first round last year, so making every ball matter is a big thing and winning in three just knowing that we could finish and being done in three is probably something they will be able to build on moving forward.”
Forest City will play Clarion-Goldfield-Dows on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Class 3A Regional Quarterfinals.