Oct. 22—OSKALOOSA — Struggling with her serve.
That was how Maleah Walker described her game with the volleyball in her hands heading into sixth-ranked Oskaloosa's Class 4A, Region 3 semifinal match with Fairfield on Thursday night.
The Trojans would love to know where those struggles where on Thursday. Walker set the tone for an impressive 25-4, 25-13, 25-8 postseason sweep for the Indians, sending the first two serves of the match of the net without a return coming back across the net.
"I've been putting in work at practice to get back to it," Walker said of her serving. "I guess it showed (Thursday). It's always nerve-racking having the first serve of a match. You know all the eyes are on you. I just try to get it in the first time and try to serve it a little harder each time."
Walker's first two aces kicked off a 10-point service run to open the night for the sixth-ranked Indians. Oskaloosa finished the night with 25 aces served up by five different players, including eight collected by Walker.
"It felt good. It set the tone," Walker said. "We all had very good serves. We put a lot of work in on our serving as a team during practice. We did not expect this. It was nice to win like this. We're definitely ready for Tuesday's regional final."
It was a double-edged sword that Fairfield had to face on Thursday with the sharp serving of the Indians keeping the Trojans from being able to set up an offensive attack. Even when Fairfield managed to get the ball over the net, as they did finally on Walker's third serve of the night, all-state attacker Faith DeRonde was waiting for her Osky teammates to get the ball to the net.
DeRonde hammered home the first of her match-high 13 kills after Fairfield finally returned a Walker serve. The Indians never looked back after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, continuing to build on the advantage in an opening game that took a mere 14 minutes to finish.
"We always have that high expectation for ourselves," DeRonde said. "We know we're the top seed in this region. We were supposed to take care of business. That's exactly what we did."
Kiya Robertson, Fairfield's junior libero, faced many of the laser-like serves and hits being sent across the net to the back row of the Trojan defense. Robertson, the team leader in digs, talked about what it was like dealing with the serves of Walker and the hits of DeRonde, just two of the main weapons that has put Oskaloosa on the verge of a state tournament berth.
"They just know their spots and they can hit it right where multiple people are," Robertson said of Oskaloosa's serving and attacking. "They just hit those spots where it can cause chaos on the other side of the net."
Fairfield's best run of the night came in the second set. Anna Dunlap scored on a kill, Hannah Bergren added an ace and the Indians started to miss long on their attacks helping the Trojans cut an 8-2 deficit down to 11-9 giving some hope to the fans from Jefferson County that Fairfield might be able to even the match with a second-set win.
Those hopes faded quickly. Abygail Thompson and Olivia Gordon teamed up on a block before DeRonde added a kill to help kick off a nine-point run that included three more ace serve by Macie Krier, putting the Indians in front 20-9 and quickly back in control of the match.
"Oskaloosa played the way they are capable of. They're a very good team that I fully expect to play as well as they did," Fairfield head volleyball coach Diane Drish said. "I'm not disappointed in my girls at all. I told the girls to go in, play hard, have fun and stay energized. They didn't give up. They fought hard throughout each game. They got some digs. They got some blocks. They stuck in there a little more in each set."
Oskaloosa (30-4) will face Little Hawkeye Conference rival Pella, the state's seventh-ranked team, in a top-10 showdown for a regional title and a spot in the Class 4A state volleyball tournament on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Fairfield, meanwhile, ends the season with a final record of 13-20 that included a pair of impressive wins over Southeast Conference champion Mount Pleasant highlighted by last Tuesday's thrilling five-set postseason win over the Panthers.
"I told the girls in the locker room that, it's not fun to have your season come to an end, but at least it didn't end on Tuesday," Drish said. "That made them all cheer. It made them a little happier. We could have easily seen our season end that night, which would have been a horrible feeling. That match was the highlight of our season. That's not a bad way to close things out."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.