By rule, it all starts at the service line in the game of volleyball.
For West Branch in its postseason opener Tuesday evening, it often started and ended with the serve.
West Branch notched 13 ace serves on its way to a 25-11, 25-7, 25-8 sweep of Pekin (11-11) in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A Region 8 tournament.
Four different players had at least two aces for 11th-ranked West Branch, which advanced to the regional semifinals against Durant at 7 p.m. Friday in West Branch.
“We preach it every single day: Your serve is your first weapon,” West Branch junior Madison Russell said. “You have to use the serve to give you the best advantage that you can have, and tonight we really did that.”
Senior Ashley Finnegan led West Branch with four ace serves, while Russell and sophomore Haley Poula each added three.
In all, five different Bears had an ace and West Branch didn’t allow a single ace serve on the defensive side.
“We served the ball really well tonight,” West Branch coach Josh Lukavsky said. “Ashley Finnegan had a really nice night and that is good to see out of her, being a senior. We didn’t pass very well at the start, but we got that going and when you serve and pass you can be pretty successful.”
West Branch, which hadn’t played in a match since Oct. 17, started out slowly Tuesday and trailed 7-5 in the opening set.
That would be the only deficit the Bears would face all night.
West Branch (25-7) rattled off 10 straight points to turn the 7-5 deficit into a 15-7 lead and Pekin never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“We haven’t been in front of a crowd, and we haven’t been in a game for a while,” Lukavsky said. “We scrimmaged last week on Thursday, but it’s not the same as it is with the scoreboard and the other team.”
Russell started the 10-point run with a kill and later rattled off three consecutive aces to give West Branch a 11-7 lead.
Finnegan also had two kills during the 10-0 spurt.
“We started off a little slow, but we corrected that,” Finnegan said. “We really needed to kick it in, and we wanted to finish it in three and we were able to do that.”
West Branch jumped to early leads in each of the final two sets and was never challenged.
The Bears scored the first eight points of the second set, three coming on kills by Poula, and ended the second set on a 8-0 run that featured three kills by Russell and three ace serves by Finnegan.
“We spend about 15 minutes every day working on serving and that really helps us,” Finnegan said. “We had a lot of aces tonight, and we kept them out of system, so that made our defense better.”
West Branch scored the first four points of the third set and then rattled off another 10-0 run to take a 14-1 lead.
Russell had five kills and an ace block during the 10-0 run and finished with a match-high 17 kills to go with her three ace serves.
“When we have a good pass, it makes everything so much easier because we get a good set and then you get to see the glory,” Russell said. “But it all starts with the serve and the pass.”
Poula had eight kills and Finnegan added seven for West Branch as the Bears finished with a 38 to seven advantage in kills.
Allyson Simpson handed out 15 set assists for West Branch, while Trystin Luneckas had 16 assists in the win.
“They didn’t get big swings at us so that made our job easier on defense,” Lukavsky said. “We got those passes, and when we got our passing down, our kills started showing up.”