By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. -- Advancing to the Elite Eight in Class 2A volleyball certainly set the bar high for the players who return next year on the Fulton volleyball team. But, there's no reason to believe the Steamers won't improve as they move ahead.
"That was a huge accomplishment for us," sophomore Betsy Leonard said of a roller-coaster season that saw a team with a sub-.500 record find a groove in the postseason, winning both the regional and sectional titles before falling in the super-sectional.
Five key players on this year's 15-18-3 squad were underclassmen, and the freshman and sophomore teams both are coming off successful seasons.
"We're looking forward to next year," Leonard said after Minonk Fieldcrest swept the Steamers on Saturday night to advance to the state semifinals. "The sophomores coming up won their conference this year and they had a really nice record, and I think we'll be even better next year."
Coach Stacy Germann said the postseason run should supply plenty of incentive to get even better for next season.
"Once you get down there you want to get back," she said. "That just becomes your goal. For these girls, they've been this far, they're going to want to beat that next year. They're going to work. A lot of that core that's coming back, they did work. They were there in the offseason and they will be there this offseason. The taste is there now."
Leonard, a key player at the net on both offense and defense, and junior Chelsea Lesniewski give the Steamers two of their top hitters back. Another sophomore, Camerin Huizenga, was promoted to the varsity at midseason and helped solidify the lineup. Junior Jamie Huennekens contributed at the net, in the back row and at the service line, and sophomore Averi Leitzen was a key defensive player at the libero position.
The keys will be to incorporate untested talent coming up with the returners.
Fulton also must develop a varsity setter, since the players who shared that role this season, Rachael Beiermann and Olivia Edfors, were both seniors. The Steamers also lose middle hitter Ann Renkes, who made some key serves during the postseason run, and Marla Stoecker.
"I think they'll do good next year and people will be out there rooting them on," Beiermann said