By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
---- — MANLIUS, Ill. – They knew it was a magical run, but that didn't make its end any easier to take.
There were tears aplenty Saturday night when Fieldcrest High School of Minonk ended Fulton's four-game winning streak and advanced to the Class 2A volleyball state semifinals with a 25-23, 25-18 victory at the Bureau Valley Super-Sectional.
“It's awesome that we came this far – we didn't think we would – but it's sad to end,” senior Rachael Beiermann said.
The Steamers held several leads in the first game, but when they lost that one, coach Stacy Germann was concerned.
“They were ready, and I truly feel if they had won that first game, the wind was taken out of their sails a little bit after that first lost,” she said. “Nobody had done that.”
Fulton (15-18-3) started the match strong, with sophomore Betsy Leonard scoring the Steamers' first three points on a combined block with Jamie Huennekens and two kills. She then served four points in a row, starting and ending the run with aces, that put the Steamers in front 7-3.
“Like always, we wanted to come out with a lead because the lead gives you an advantage,” she said.
Fieldcrest (33-4-1) took a page out of Fulton's “How to Win in the Postseason” book in the first set.
Trailing 8-4, the Knights took over at the service line to keep the Steamers within reach.
After recording a kill to make it 8-5, senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Petersen continued the four-point run with an ace serve and added a back-row kill to tie the score moments later.
“We were down a couple, so it was really important to me,” Petersen said. “I knew I had to get them over the net, so I stayed focused that we could catch back up since we were down.”
Fulton responded with three consecutive points, getting bookend kills from seniors Ann Renkes and Beiermann, but the Steamers couldn't shake the Knights.
Fieldcrest scored the nex three points, pulling even at 12 on a kill by Tessa Holland. Another Renkes kill put Fulton back on top but Fieldcrest eventually retook the lead at 15-14 on a kill by Haley Ruestman and pushed the lead to 19-16 on a kill by Petersen.
The Steamers refused to back down, though, tying it at 19-19 and again at 22-22 and 23-23, the latter two times on Fieldcrest hitting errors.
“We did not want to give up,” Leonard said. “We were playing our hardest every point.”
But a Fulton hitting error put the Knights within a point of closing out Game 1, and they finished it off on the next point on a Ruestman kill.
“It meant everything to take that momentum and finish it,” Petersen said. “If not, it would have gotten way too close for us.”
Germann said: “When they scored those last two points, we were still playing hard. They went off the block, and we were still hustling for it. They still had that fire.”
But Germann said the loss to a toll on her team that had gotten used to winning the first game during regional and sectional play.
“In Game 2, we lost a little bit of that,” she said. “They were still trying to get it, but we just couldn't finish it. We couldn't finish that pass or that hit. Offensively tonight, we couldn't do what we've been doing lately. ...
“We kind of dipped back down a little bit to our … losing a little bit of confidence. We had some lulls where they played a little scared, played a little aprehensive. I think they had a little fear, and I hadn't seen that in a long time.”
Still, the Steamers jumped in front in Game 2, getting kills by Leonard and Chelsea Lesniewski to go up 2-0 and a block by Leonard and Camerin Huizenga to make it 3-1.
But, Fieldcrest scored eight of the next nine points, with kills by Petersen counting for three of them, and was in control the rest of the way.
“They were hitting hard, and we just couldn't dig up all their hits,” Leonard said.
The lead hit 10 twice, 21-11 and 22-12, but Fulton had one final push left.
Lesniewski had back-to-back kills, Beiermann and Renkes combined on a block and Beiermann added another kill to make it 22-16. After a Fieldcrest point, kills by Renkes and Jamie Huennekens cut it to 23-18, but the Knights ended it by scoring the final two points.
“They had their highs and their lows in Game 2, and the problem is you can't have those lows, not now, not in postseason and not playing better teams,” Germann said. “Fieldcrest is a great team. They hit well. They did a good job.”
Petersen led Fieldcrest – which will play Albion Edwards County in Friday's 1:30 p.m. semifinal at Redbird Arena in Normal, Ill. – with 10 kills, while Ruestman added seven and Holland had five.
“It is unbelievable,” Petersen said. “I don't know how to describe how I feel right now. It's just awesome.
MINONK FIELDCREST 25-25, FULTON 23-18
Fulton statistical leaders
Kills – Betsy Leonard 9, Chelsea Lesniewski 8, Rachael Beiermann 4. Assists – Olivia Edfors 10, Beiermann 8. Digs – Averi Leitzen 15, Lesniewski 8, Beiermann 5. Blocks – Camerin Huizenga 3, Beiermann 2. Ace serves – Leonard 2, Lesniewski 1.