By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FARMINGTON, Ill. — When Fulton found itself trailing by several points in each game Tuesday night, there was no need to worry. The Steamers had an ace in the hole.
Several, as it turned out.
Chelsea Lesniewski and Ann Renkes came through with crucial aces in clutch situations, leading Fulton to a pair of comeback wins, 25-21 and 27-25, against Orion to advance the Steamers to Thursday’s championship match of the Illinois Class 2A Farmington Sectional volleyball tournament. The Steamers (14-7-3) will face Abingdon-Avon, a 16-25, 25-19, 25-17 winner against Stark County in Tuesday’s other semifinal, at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, so we’re just going to go in hard, go in loud and not give up, stay up no matter what,” Lesniewski said.
Refusing to give in certainly was the key Tuesday.
“We definitely didn’t give up,” senior setter-hitter Rachael Beiermann said. “You just stay positive. Then, I think they got down a little easier than we would. We kept our spirit up.”
Fulton changed the complexion of both games at the service line.
“I feel that getting an ace always gets us more pumped,” Lesniewski said.
“What was huge about that, that was the rotation where it was after their server who got us both games,” Fulton coach Stacy Germann said. “Every time that server came around, that’s where they gained their points. So to have Chelsea be the next person up to dig us out of that hole was huge.”
Orion led 12-8 in the opener when Renkes recorded a kill from the right side to give service to the Steamers. Lesniewski stepped to the line and served five consecutive points, including two aces. The first was a line drive that caught the top of the net and dropped down on the Orion side, pulling Fullton within 12-10. The second tied the match at 12.
“Every time I go up to the line, I want to get an ace,” Lesniewski said. “I’m always nervous, but hopefully I get it in. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I’ve just got to get it in and be positive.”
Renkes added an ace on the next rotation, then Fulton went ahead to stay on an Orion hitting error. A kill by Camerin Huizenga made it 17-15, then a violation on the Chargers pushed the lead to 18-15.
Orion never got closer than two after that, and the Steamers finished out the victory.
Fulton was in much worse shape in the second set, but Lesniewski and Renkes helped the Steamers recover. Still, it was a slow process.
An 8-1 run gave the Chargers a 15-7 lead before a service error ended Baillie McCunn’s six-point run at the service line.
“They had an awesome server, and she kept getting us,” Beiermann said. “After we got past that, we kind of worked our way back up. That server is what had us down there for the longest time.”
Lesniewski delivered back-to-back aces, then moments later, Renkes recorded three in a row.
“I always know when I go back to the line and we’re behind, I have to get my serves over,” Renkes said. “It’s the most important part of the game for me to get my serves over because I just know I have to get it on the ground for my team to get another kill if the pass comes over.”
Despite those points, Fulton still trailed 17-14.
The Steamers made several little runs at Orion, but the Chargers were just two points from forcing a third game when Ashton Lee recorded a kill in the middle.
They just couldn’t shake the Steamers, though.
“I feel like we want it,” Lesniewski said. “We’re not going to give up. If we’re down, we’re just going to keep playing our hardest.”
A kill by Lesniewski made it 23-20, and a bad set by Orion cut the gap to two. Then, another kill by Lee made it game point for Orion.
Fulton refused to let the Chargers seal it, though, and Lesniewski and Renkes each had a hand in the final comeback.
Kills by Beiermann and Renkes cut it to 24-23, then Lewsniewski gave Fulton its first tie since 6-6 with her fifth ace of the match. She followed with a service error, though, and once again, Orion held game point.
But Beiermann retied it with a backhand tap to her right that found nothing but uncovered floor.
“That’s her specialty,” Germann said.
The kill put the ball in Renkes’ hand, and she served her fifth ace to put the Steamers on top 26-25.
“I’m thinking ace,” Renkes said. “Every time I go up to serve it’s my goal to serve an ace.”
Beiermann then finished it off with her fifth kill.
“It is awesome,” Renkes said. “I knew I had to get my serve in, then I was telling her to go line, line, line because that is what was open. She turned it, and luckily it went down on the other side.”
Beiermann said: “It’s awesome. You just wait for that final point, and you don’t want them to make a comeback, then you finally get it and you get a huge rush.”
And you get one step closer to a sectional title.
FULTON 25-27, ORION 21-27
Kills — Fulton, Betsy Leonard 7, Chelsea Lesniewski 6, Rachael Beiermann 5; Orion, Ashton Lee 8, Katie Conway 5. Assists — Fulton, Beiermann 14, Olivia Edfors 9; Orion, Macy Hancock 16. Digs — Fulton, Lesniewski 11, Averi Leitzen 10, Jamie Huennekens 5; Orion, Madison Schulenberg 9, Abby DeBaillie 7. Blocks — Fulton, Leonard 1; Orion, Lee 3. Ace serves — Fulton, Lesniewski 5, Ann Renkes 5; Orion, Conway 1.
Enjoy the win To see more photos from Fulton's victory Tuesday in the sectional semifinals, take a look at the photo gallery online at Clintonherald.smugmug.com