FULTON, Ill. — The heat was nearly unbearable inside the gym at Stan Borgman Court on Thursday night, but looking at the excitement on the faces of the Fulton volleyball team you would have thought the A/C was on.
Tuesday’s first game of the season for the Steamers was canceled because of the heat, but they weren’t going to let their game against rival Morrison see the same fortune.
“We’ve been waiting for this,” coach Stacy Germann said. “Our Tuesday night game was canceled, and we just need to see what we can do in a real game situation. It’s been a little rough trying to get our practices in; you get to the point where you’re ready for a game and then when your practices get cut short and you get out of your routine, it’s a little hard to keep it in tact, but they did a good job.”
The Steamers have veteran presence this year on the court with five returning upperclassmen from last year’s team, four of whom are starters, and the grit from playing together all of last year showed in their 25-17, 26-24 win over Morrison to start the season.
“They (seniors) have advanced since last year,” Germann said of her returning players. “Last year that process was a little bit difficult for them, just being young, and they’re doing it now and that’s what we want them to do. Step up as seniors, step up to the plate and show that volleyball intelligence, and they’re doing it.”
Fulton grabbed an early lead over the Fillies in the first set with solid all-around play from each of the girls who saw court time. Sophomore middle hitter Betsy Leonard showed her athleticism early and often all night, dominating close to the net. Leonard mixed up her kills down the line and crosscourt with the help of her setters, Olivia Edfors and Rachael Beiermann, keeping Morrison from gaining any momentum in the middle of the set.
For a good stretch in the middle of the first game both teams traded points, whether one at a time or each going on a run. Both teams had four-point runs before the score reached 15, and the Steamers started to pull away. Solid serving, well-placed kills, key blocks and, most importantly, communication on the court allowed Fulton to pull ahead and win the first match 25-17.
“The communication is good, because when we talk more we get up and then we get more excited and dominate more. We do better as a team,” junior Chelsea Lesniewski said.
“When we would go into huddles everyone would tell me where the openings were,” Leonard said as an example the communication. “Marla (Stoecker) told me right in the middle the tip was open, and then coach told me that line was open, so I knew where I could hit and where it would be open.”
The Steamers’ serving on the night was pivotal to their two-game sweep of the Fillies but easily overlooked as each girl went up to the service line with a plan and executed. Near the end of set, the Steamers got key aces from both of their younger players, Leonard and Averi Leitzen, as well as a handful from senior Olivia Edfors that began their run to victory.
Morrison got the drop on the Steamers in the Game 2, going up 4-1 early, and the Fillies were able to keep Fulton at arms length for much of the second set. Fulton fought back, though, muscling its way back into the game with good defense at the net and smart kills from Leonard and Lesniewski, who both spread out the court with their hits. Several digs and diving plays from everyone on the court, ranging from Leitzen to Beiermann to Ann Renkes, squelched any attempts by Morrison to gain too much momentum over Fulton, although the Fillies maintained a lead for much of Game 2.
“I was going with whatever the team needed; they were doing a really good job digging everything up, and I just wanted to help them out.” Leonard said.
While Leonard had been spot-on all night with her kills, Lesniewski was battling her jump timing.
“I feel like I wasn’t hitting very good tonight,” Lesniewski said.
In the first game she was coming up too far over the top of her kills and kept sending them in the net, but her persistence and eventual success was a sample size of what the team was doing as a whole on the court as it fought and clawed its way to a 26-24 victory in the second game. The Steamers took their first lead at 24-23 on a block by Leonard. After Morrison tied the game, Fulton scored the final two points to end the match.
Fulton now will prepare for the next game against the Bureau Valley Storm next Tuesday night on Stan Borgman Court looking to build some momentum.
“It was a really good game; everyone had a good night,” Leonard said.
FULTON 25-26, MORRISON 17-24
Fulton statistical leaders
Kills — Betsy Leonard 7, Chelsea Lesniewski 5, Rachael Beiermann 4. Assists — Olivia Edfors 11, Beiermann 8. Ace serves — Beiermann 2, Edfors 2, Averi Leitzen 2. Blocks — Leonard 3, Bonnie Coleman 1. Digs — Leitzen 7, Marla Stoecker 4, Beiermann 4.
Sophomores — Fulton won 23-25, 25-15, 15-10.
Freshmen — Morrison won 25-24, 25-18.