FULTON, Ill. -- Hard hits were all around Thursday between the Erie Cardinals and the Fulton Steamers at Stan Borgman Court.
The front lines for the Cardinals and the Steamers came out hitting hard and didn’t let up the entire match. Erie was able to see more of its hits land than the Steamers, propelling the Cardinals to the Three Rivers Conference win 25-20, 25-18.
“I think we’re getting there,” Erie sophomore Rachel Cobert said. “This was probably our best game of the whole season.”
She said the Cardinals also took a bit of enjoyment of beating the Steamers on a night when they welcomed back players from their 2003 Elite Eight team.
“On Senior Nights and tonight when they honor that state team, it gives you motivation,” Cobert said.
In the first match, both teams wasted no time establishing their outside and middle hitters. Erie’s Peyton Rus (game-high 11 kills) and Cobert (six kills) laid down a couple of kills, while Fulton saw Betsy Leonard (team-high six kills) and, later, Chelsea Lesniewski and Rachael Beiermann (six kills) mix in some decisive kills of their own, breaking up any runs the Cardinals would try to go on.
“We tend to start slow in the first set, but tonight, for a change, we picked up our game,” Erie coach Alicia Murphy said.
But Fulton hung tough, getting kills from Beiermann that tied the game at 7-7 and 8-8.
Beiermann, in the past two games especially, has been showing improved court awareness and court vision.
“I’ve really been focusing more on what’s open and where the block is,” she said. “I’ve really been concentrating on that a lot lately.”
The Steamers and Cardinals went back and forth, point for point through most of the first match before Erie began to pull away at the end for the 25-20 victory. The Steamers found themselves taking advantage of the Erie serve-receive, which was subpar for the night, in both matches.
“I think that was probably where we capitalized tonight, was our serving,” Fulton coach Stacy Germann said. “Being able to get them out of system with that, I think that was probably their weakest point tonight, but other than that they played a really tight game.”
In the first they were able to keep up with Erie, exploiting that weakness and in the second game used it to get out to a 5-1 lead, which they held onto into the mid-teens.
“We practice serve-receive a lot,” Beiermann said. “You can’t start anything without a pass, so that’s the biggest thing. We definitely work on that a lot. That really helps out with our setting to get it to our hitters, so it’s nice when that’s on.”
The Cardinals weathered that fast start, though, pleasing Murphy.
“They kept their composure when Fulton had a few points in a row,” she said. “They battled back.”
The second match had a different pace than the first game. Both teams went on a couple of 5-0 runs as the momentum swung both ways but ended with the Cardinals. Erie was able to pull away from the Steamers in both matches with their strong hitting and solid defense behind them.
“We had some good kills,” Germann stated, “but Erie played some tough defense tonight. It seemed like every, not every hard hit that we had, but a lot of them, they (Erie) would dig up.”
They also took advantage of the Steamers not being able to close off the block at the net.
“We weren’t closing good enough. Every time it would just go between us and we just weren’t closing it. It was frustrating,” said Beiermann, who wasn’t the only one who displeased with the Steamers’ blocking on the night.
“Erie did a good job of mixing their hits between line and cross,” Leonard said. “If we set up to block cross they would hit line, and if we didn’t get over there fast enough it was right through the gap. It was really frustrating.”
Germann added her thoughts on the Steamers’ issues at the net as well.
“We had a big gap inbetween our block tonight,” she said “Some of what that attributes to is Erie has got some pretty hard hitters, and a lot of times when you have such force coming at you it pushed your hands back.”
That issue plagued the Steamers in both games and kept them from overtaking the Cardinals on the night. The hard hits and mix between line and cross-court kills from Erie made it hard for the Steamers to get their blockers in the right position ,leaving gaps between the blockers or between the blockers. Rus and Cobert were able to find those gaps most of the night, exploiting the holes.
“Rus could hit that line nicely,” Beiermann said, noting the athleticism of her opponent.
Fulton (4-12, 4-6 conference) heads across the river this weekend for a tournament in Goose Lake at Northeast High School and will look to get back to its winning ways.
ERIE 25-25, FULTON 20-18
Kills -- Erie, Peyton Rus 11, Rachel Cobert 6; Fulton, Betsy Leonard 6, Rachael Beiermann 6, Chelsea Lesniewski 3. Assists -- Erie, Mary Chapman 15, Megan Heun 3; Fulton, Beiermann 8, Olivia Edfors 7. Digs -- Erie, Courtney Cobert 12, Savannah Mettler 9; Fulton, Averi Leitzen 6, Lesniewski 6, Marla Stoecker 3. Blocks -- Erie, R. Cobert 1; Fulton, Leonard 1, Lesniewski 1. Ace serves -- Erie, Chapman 2; Fulton, Jamie Huennekens 1, Beiermann 1.
Sophomores -- Fulton won 25-16, 25-16.
Freshmen -- Fulton won 25-15, 22-25, 15-10.
More online To see more of Thursday's 10-year celebration and Erie's win over Fulton, go to Clintonherald.com.