FULTON – Standing tall on the Fulton High School volleyball team's side of the net are a pair of 6-foot upperclassmen whose play styles seamlessly complement each other on the front lines of the Steamers attack.
Not to mention their importance behind the team's improvement from a season ago, as FHS is on pace to surpass 2017's win total with a possibility of finishing the season over .500 in both the conference and overall play.
Emily Schipper can hit. She is one of those eye-popping talents that warrants an extra step back when fielding her practice spikes before a match. Daekota Knott can block. She is one of those unique X-factors with the ability to essentially wipe out an opposing hitter with her swift blocking motion.
Schipper says the duo has gelled since they came together in 2016, when Schipper was a freshman and Knott a sophomore.
"I have just always worked well with Daekota," Schipper said. "We have always cheered each other up and are always there for each other... we work well together."
Fulton is currently 13-14 this season while remaining two wins away from tying last year's win total, which topped out at 15 victories against 22 losses.
Knott notices the difference, which she says is rooted in off-court chemistry.
"This season has been a lot better than last year," Knott said. "We came together well... we have a great bond and all of us are friends on and off the court."
The epitome of Schipper and Knott's importance to the team came on Oct. 2, when Fulton nearly pulled off an improbable upset over No. 6-ranked Newman at FHS, narrowly dropping the three-set thriller 18-25, 25-13, 17-25.
Schipper was unguardable, spraying spikes across the court with pinpoint accuracy, most of which landed directly on the line. The junior finished with 15 of the team's 25 kills.
"She is our best hitter and can play all the way around," Fulton coach Stacy Garmann said. "She is our go-to gal and we have been working really hard with her to become a more versatile hitter... we told her [in the Newman game] to stop hitting it to the libero and the next one she hits to the other side of the court. It is a great confidence booster for us."
Meanwhile, Knott used her length to essentially remove Newman's best hitter, Sierra Williams, from the game, recording a team-high four blocks in the contest. She also leads the Steamers with 91 this season.
"She is a huge force at the net," Garmann said. "We shut down one of Newman's strongest hitters and forced them to start tipping the ball."
Garmann added that Knott's skills have become more diverse, as the senior has added an improved hitting ability to her arsenal.
"She is also becoming a hitting force for us this year and is a sneaky tipper, as well," Garmann said.
While Fulton has certainly made a stride in the right direction this season, there is still work left to be done – and the Steamers expect to succeed in the postseason this time around.
Garmann has pointed to serves and serve-receive as areas of the Steamers game that needs to be honed as the team finishes the regular season with three final games against Orion, Riverdale and Sherrard, which will be the last match on the schedule on Oct. 18.
With Senior Night approaching, it is natural for Knott to begin reflecting on her time within the program. What is she going to miss most?
"The team dinners," she said, "those are really good."