LANSING | Freddy Herrara was in Phoenix on business Tuesday, but his words -- rather, his word -- echoed through the gym at Illiana Christian as the Vikings toiled early in a Metro Suburban match with Riverside-Brookfield.
"All first game, the girls kept saying it from the bench," Illiana's libero and Freddy's daughter, Rachel, said. "Next. Next. Next."
"Just keep looking forward. It's all about the next play," she said. "My dad has been telling me that forever."
The Vikings (13-11, 6-1) picked up the mantra, and put it to good use in a 25-21, 25-12 win over R-B (13-5, 3-4). They needed to, after getting swept by conference leader Timothy Christian last week.
The Vikings bounced back a bit over the weekend, taking Timothy to three sets in the title match of the Manteno Tournament.
"After the (first) Timothy match, everybody was crying -- I was crying," Illiana coach Nikki Van Dyke said. "Ever since then, the team has played together. We don't look at the score. We're playing as a team."
Though the Vikings survived the first set against R-B, getting five kills from Jamie Petrarca and two each from Sydnee VanBeek, Mikinsey Pruim and Rebecca DeVries, they didn't really get going until Rachel Herrera sparked them in Set 2.
Herrera, the shortest player on the Illiana roster at 5-foot-2, had a flat-footed kill from inside the 10-foot line and the whole team erupted in celebration -- no one more than Herrera, who leaped into the air.
"She gallops," Van Dyke said. "It's like she's running in mid-air for a split second."
"It was my first kill," Herrera said. "I always wanted to know how it felt to play the front row."
Not that Herrera is frugal with her smiles on the court.
"The coach told me earlier in the season," she said. "i have to be a leader, be vocal, have that joy of playing."
The kill came amid a six-point run for Illiana. En route to winning the next point, the Vikings got two spectacular digs from Herrera, the second of which had her diving away from the net. It was 10-3 at that point, and R-B never got closer the rest of the way.
Herrera finished with a team-high 10 digs and was 4-of-4 receiving serve on an exceptional evening for the Illiana back row.
Kat Witting was 6-of-6 on serve receive, had eight digs and added 11 service points. Van Beek, who backed up Petrarca's match-high eight kills with five of her own, added five digs and was 9-of-11 receiving.