By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Aubrey Rhoades Tanzillo has stayed in touch with many of her high school volleyball teammates through Facebook.
Seeing most of them in person was even better.
Tanzillo and most of her teammates on the 2003 Fulton volleyball team were back in the high school gymnasium Thursday night for a 10-year reunion of the most successful team in Steamers’ volleyball history. Fulton finished 33-2-1 that season and advanced to the Elite Eight in Illinois Class A.
“It was kind of like we never left,” said Tanzillo, a junior on that team who later played for Ashford and now serves as co-coach of the Clinton High team. “It was awesome.”
Stacy Germann, Fulton’s coach then and now, enjoyed seeing her former players, too.
“It is one of the most wonderful feelings,” she said. “What is so good is how successful all of them are now. What they did then, you could see they’d be successful.”
Tanzillo said the timing was perfect for a get-together, too.
“It’s fun now because we’re the age when we’re all getting married so we see each other at weddings,” said Tanzillo, who is one of those recent brides. Also married are Abby Young Temple, Colleen Wilkin Temple, Kendra James Peurach, Amanda Boonstra Neiss, Abigail Adams Eissens, Angela Wirth Vickroy, Rachel Kuebel Diedrich, Michelle Wilkins Peters, Cara Kaufman Painter and Jaci Ottens Chapeck. Sarah Buikema is engaged.
Jessica Phillips, Alyssa Drolema, Ashley Christensen and Amara Ward, the team manager, rounded out the squad.
Rhoades was one of three key juniors on that team — along with Adams and Boonstra — who joined seniors Wilkin, James, Kuebel, Phillips and Wilkins as the mainstays on the team. James led the Steamers in kills, with Rhoades second; Wilkin was the setter, whose 663 assists that season still stand as the school record; Wilkins ranked second to James in blocks; and Phillips had the team lead in aces.
James, Rhoades and Wilkin were named first-team All-Three Rivers, with Wilkin being named conference MVP and James earning team MVP honors. Boonstra, Adams and Phillips were named to the second team.
They won their first four matches that fall before splitting with Polo at the Thomson Invitational. Seventeen consecutive wins followed before they suffered the lone regular-season loss in a three-set match against Davenport Assumption at the Northeast Invitational.
The Steamers closed the regular season with six straight wins, then beat Sterling Newman and Rockridge in the Riverdale Regional; Cambridge and Rock Falls in the Westmer Sectional; and Sciota West Prairie in the Abingdon SuperSectional to earn a spot in the Elite Eight.
“It was the best feeling in the world that night,” Germann said of beating West Prairie 25-15, 11-25, 25-23.
But, getting to the state quarterfinals that year wasn’t really a surprise. The 2002 squad compiled a 30-2-2 record and lost a three-set match to Lena-Winslow in the supersectional.
“I remember sitting down as a sophomore,” Tanzillo said. “We went down to state to watch, and we said we could be here next year. We printed a picture of the state floor. At practice, we knew that was our goal, and it was cool because we achieved our goal.”
Germann said: “It would have been disappointing (not to get to state). We wanted to be there the year before. I think that gave us more fuel for the fire.”
But for all the wins on the court, the best memories of the 2003 season came off the court for Tanzillo.
“Honestly, the absolute best was — I loved playing, but — the bus rides together, the fun things we did as a team,” she said. “Coach Germann set it up so we’d go to a church for breakfast on game days, and we did that this morning.”
Even though Tanzillo said she still saw many of the players since about half of them reside in the area, getting together as a team again was special.
She had just one complaint about the festivities.
“We said nobody should see the video of how we looked 10 years ago,” she said.