FARMINGTON, Ill. – Decked out in their white “Steamer Screamer” T-shirts, fans of the Fulton High School volleyball team gave the Steamers a vocal advantage Tuesday and Thursday at the Illinois Class 2A Farmington Sectional, despite the two-hour trip.
And an escort by emergency vehicles as part of a caravan of fans upon their return to Fulton on Thursday night with the sectional championship trophy just gave further proof to the players that the team's late-season success is picking up.
“When they walk into the gym … we just kind of get more excited,” junior outside hitter Chelsea Lesniewski said. “It pumps us up more.”
With today's super-sectional much closer to home, the Steamers are hoping those fans again prove to be an equalizer when they take on an impressive Minonk Fieldcrest squad in Manlius, Ill.
“We love our fans,” senior setter-hitter Rachael Beiermann said. “We can't thank them enough. The fact that they take two buses and go all the way down here two hours, it's just an awesome feeling to know that people actually care and are willing to come down just to watch you play an hour-long volleyball game.”
The Steamers (15-17-3) are hoping the venue for tonight's 7 o'clock match – Bureau Valley High School, one of Fulton's rivals in the Three Rivers Conference – provides an advantage. No matter how well the Steamers are playing, they'll have their hands full against a team that boasts a 32-4-1 record.
“We know what the gym's like, and the fact that it's closer for us, our fans … a lot more of them will go,” Beiermann said.
“Hopefully, we have more people there,” Lesniewski said. “The more the better.”
One thing is sure. While they may be underdogs, the Steamers are playing as well as anyone right now, coming off sweeps of Orion and Abingdon-Avon at the sectional tournament.
“This feels amazing,” sophomore middle hitter Betsy Leonard said. “It's the farthest we've gone in a long time.”
It has been 10 years since Fulton last made it to the super-sectional, an anniversary that was celebrated during the season.
There's one huge difference. That team had a record (33-2-1) similar to Fieldcrest's, while the Steamers are below the .500 mark.
“It's very rewarding,” coach Stacy Germann said of her team winning the sectional title. “We were frustrated at the beginning of the year. It's been a roller-coaster ride for us.
“I knew they had it in them. It's what we were hoping for at the beginning of the season. It's better late than never. This is what I knew they could produce, so now they're doing it when it counts.”
Germann said the team started to realize its potential late in the season.
“Probably the last fourth of the season they really started coming along,” she said. “We had aspirations at that point in time. We just saw it all connecting. Our hitters were starting to find the right spots, and they just started to become more intellects of the game.”
But they've also fed off that outside source of the fans, and they're hoping that could be the difference tonight.
“They have been great,” Germann said, “and I think our fan support really has helped push our girls to the level they're performing right now.