By Brenden West Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Despite dropping the first set 25-21, Fulton had every reason to believe it could force a third set and possibly take the high school volleyball match against Sterling Newman on Thursday. In Set 1, the teams played to a 15-15 tie, and even as the Comets steadily pulled away, Fulton hung close thanks to the net play of Chelsea Lesniewski and Betsy Leonard.
But, after playing back and forth through 10 points in Set 2, Newman’s Megan Rosengren stepped to the service line for an eight-point run, building a 13-4 lead. The deficit was too large to recover from and the Steamers were swept, dropping the clincher 25-15.
“They’re frustrated. We’ve had quite a few losses lately,” Fulton coach Stacy Germann said. The Steamers fell to 1-6 with the loss.
“We did get a little upset about losing the first one,” Leonard said. “I think if we worked on our defense more and became more consistent we could play a lot closer, especially in the second game.”
The eight-point rally by Newman was coupled by several smaller runs during Set 2. The Steamers were aced three time, but that number somewhat hid what Germann called a “serve-receive breakdown.”
“In Game 2, our serve-receive fell apart right from the beginning,” she said. Germann also said a mix of off-speed hits by the Comets threw off the Steamers on defense. “Anything that was short and in front of us gave us a tough time. ... When your defense and your serve-receive are struggling in one night, that’s kind of a predetermined loss right there. It’s hard when you can’t get that pass up there to your setter.”
Fulton and Newman played to an 8-8 tie in the opener before the Steamers began to push a lead. Behind kills by Leonard, Fulton built its lead to 11-8, forcing a Newman timeout. The Comets then answered with a three-point swing, forcing an 11-11 tie.
Kills by Lesniewski and Rachael Beiermann re-knotted the game at 15-15. Newman then endured a series of long rallies while going on a 6-2 run.
“Our focus is really to play each point like it’s game point and not let up,” Newman coach Debbi Kelly said. “We adjusted our defense just a little bit to focus on number 10 (Lesniewski).”
Another string of kills by Lesniewski brought the score to 23-21 Newman. Following another Comets timeout, Newman brought home the final two points with a kill by Aubree Schmitt and a Fulton hitting error.
The teams continued to battle close in Set 2 before a string of miscues gave Newman a 5-3 advantage. The Steamers regained serve after a Comets misplay, but Germann was forced to burn one of her timeouts because one of her players illegally subbed into the match.
“They would’ve gotten the point. ... She just went in for the libero and we needed to sub,” she said.
A kill by Rosengren gave her the serve, and Newman subsequently rolled through eight straight points with Germann having only one precious timeout to use.
“Getting the momentum with the serve going with Megan Rosengren back at the line I think was a big help,” Kelly said.
The score was 21-8 following a 16-4 run by the Comets.
“I just think we weren’t reading the ball right tonight. We struggled a little bit with that,” Fulton libero Averi Leitzen said.
Kerrigan Enloe helped spark a four-point Fulton run with her serve with some inspired net play by Beiermann and Leonard. The Steamers cut their deficit to 11 before Newman regained the ball and closed in. Two late kills by Lesniewski and Leonard went to no avail as a match-point kill by Schmitt ended the contest 25-15.
Leonard and Lesniewski led the team hitting with six kills each. Beiermann dished out nine assists, with Jamie Huennekens, Leitzen and Lesniewski combining for 14 digs.
Leitzen said the team would look to rebound this weekend at the Mount Pulaski Invitational.
“We’re just going to work hard and start our winning streak then,” she said.
STERLING NEWMAN 25-25, FULTON 21-15
Kills — Newman (Aubree Schmitt 5, Megan Rosengren 5, Bree deLong 4), Fulton (Betsy Leonard 6, Chelsea Lesniewski 6, Rachael Beiermann 4). Assists — Newman (Alison Shipman 9, Kayci Howell 8), Fulton (Beiermann 9, Olivia Edfors 6). Digs — Newman (Sara Nysather 4, Julie Hurd 4, Howell 3), Fulton (Jamie Huennekens 6, Averi Leitzen 4, Lesniewski 4).
Sophomores — Fulton won 25-18, 25-13.
Freshmen — Newman won 18-25, 25-23, 15-13.