FULTON, Ill. — The season is young, the Knights are young, and already Unity Christian has had to overcome regular-season adversity.
Down 0-2 to Rivermont Collegiate on Aug. 29, Unity coach Tabitha Fullan brought the same lineup — two freshmen, two sophomores and two seniors — back out onto the hardwood. As is common with younger teams, the Knights suddenly got red hot, catching the Lions unaware.
“I think it was just little mental mistakes in the first two games that they corrected,” Fullan said. After losing Sets 1 (25-19) and 2 (25-20), Unity stormed back to win three straight sets, including a resounding 25-12 victory in Set 4 to steal the five-set victory over Rivermont.
“We sped up our game, and I think that’s where those little mistakes were coming from,” Fullan said. “Once they sped up, they were so steady, they made very few mistakes.”
There are bound to be a few growing pains with this young Knights roster. Seniors JoLynn “JoJo” Frederick and Jaime Kammerer provide experience and leadership for four other players still feeling their ways out at the varsity level. Freshman Jesse VanderEide joins Kammerer at middle; twin sister Katie VanderEide is the outside next to sophomore Natalie Hirl; and sophomore Maria Striley plays opposite the setter, Frederick.
Yet, through all of the youth on the roster, there has been little for Fullan to complain about. The Knights started 3-0 and placed second at their home tournament Saturday. Fullan credits Frederick and Kammerer for taking the younger players under their wings.
So far, the secret to Unity’s success has been consistency. There isn’t one major offensive weapon, Fullan said.
“We have a lot of quick girls who can make a lot of good saves,” she said. “That’s what we’ve had to do a lot this year. Even if we don’t have a lot of hard hitters — because they’re so young — they’ve made up for it in their defense and in their scrappy play.”
When competing in the Northern Illinois Christian Conference, it’s uncertain exactly where the Knights stand. But their coach is emboldened by early signs of progress.
She believes that once fundamental teachings in practice translate to game play, Unity can do some damage and surprise more teams like Rivermont.
“Once they get into the zone of that fast pace at the varsity level, that’s when they’ll become really good,” Fullan said. “All six of our starters are so steady. They just don’t make a lot of mistakes.”