By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
FULTON, Ill. —
Playing in the postseason didn’t seem to do it. Neither did standing opposite a fierce rival.
Finally, Fulton High’s volleyball players found something to light a fire.
With the realization that a season-ending loss was a distinct possibility, the Steamers stormed back to score 9 of the final 11 points and pull out a 26-24 victory against the Fillies. They followed up with a 25-22 win in Game 2 that put them in Thursday night’s final against another Three Rivers Conference rival, Riverdale. The Rams beat Rock Island Alleman 25-11, 25-7 in Tuesday’s first semifinal.
“I honestly think they were tense and had postseason jitters,” Fulton coach Stacy Germann said of her players. “We weren’t ourselves. I’m proud of the way we came back.”
Morrison scored five points in a row for a 6-1 lead and led most of the first game. The Fillies pushed the lead to 21-15 and they led 23-19 when Fulton senior Kylie Kennedy stepped to the service line.
“I think we started out kind of nervous,” Kennedy said. “We realized it’s regionals, it’s do or die.”
Just when the Steamers needed something big to happen, Kennedy provided it.
“I think for everybody to see Kylie go back to the service line they can relax and take a sigh of relief knowing Kylie is there and can get the ball rolling for us,” Germann said.
Kennedy delivered back-to-back aces, and suddenly Fulton’s deficit was just 2 points.
“It was very important because we were down so much, and scoring easy points gets them down and our confidence back,” Kennedy said.
“They were huge; that gets us excited,” Fulton sophomore Chelsea Lesniewski said.
“We practice a lot of more complicated serves, and that’s a big part of our game,” Kennedy said. “We try to pick on someone not as good.”
Lesniewski followed with a kill from the left side to make it 23-22, but Morrison got to within a point of the victory when Kennedy’s next serve went into the net.
The Fillies couldn’t finish it off, though. The Steamers found Lesniewski four straight times on the left side, and she came through with a kill each time to complete Fulton’s comeback.
“I was setting up and hitting them,” Lesniewski said. “I was surprised they didn’t block it that well.”
Germann said Morrison might have had trouble getting the block because Lesniewski, who finished with a match-high nine kills, was set up differently each time.
“Our passing was not where it needed to be, so our setters had only one place to go, to Chelsea,” Germann said. “She wasn’t getting the same hits. She was adjusting to different sets and made good contact.
“Thank goodness Chelsea and Kylie pulled through. It was probably Chelsea’s best match. It was perfect timing.”
Rotten timing if you were from Morrison.
“It took the wind out of our sails to lose that first game,” Morrison coach Jennifer Medenblik said. “It’s aways tough to come in to Fulton, regardless of the records. It’s more of a mental game for us. These girls had a good month of October; it’s tough to come and play Fulton.”
The teams traded points early in the second set before a kill by Ann Renkes put the Steamers up 3-2. Minutes later, they stretched the lead to 8-4 on back-to-back kills in the middle by Rachael Beiermann.
Fulton pushed the lead to five, 12-7, on a set from Beiermann that led to a kill by Morgan Wierema.
At one point the lead grew to six, then Morrison roared back, scoring five points in a row capped by successive aces by Alyssa Workman just inside Fulton’s right sideline.
Moments later, the Fillies (15-16) charged ahead 20-17 with a five-point run that started with a deep hit by Fulton, a violation at the net on the Steamers and two bad passes.
“It was a lot easier in Game 2, (but) we figured we already have this, got ahead of ourselves and let up,” Kennedy said.
Fulton responded with four straight points before Morrison pulled even at 21-21, but a tip kill by Beiermann started a 4-1 closing run that sealed the win for Fulton (16-17-1).
The second-seeded Steamers now turn their eyes to Thursday night and a 6 p.m. championship match against Riverdale, the top seed. The Rams (29-3), the TRAC-9 champions, beat Fulton twice this season — 25-13, 25-17 on Sept. 18 in Fulton and 28-26, 25-16 last Tuesday in Port Byron, Ill.
“We’re really excited for them,” Lesniewski said.
“I told the girls we have nothing to lose,” Germann said. “We’re the underdogs. We gave them a heck of a match the last time in their gym.”
FULTON 25-25, MORRISON 24-22
Individual statistical leaders
Kills — Morrison (Adrienne Banks 6, Alyssa Workman 6, Allie Renkes 5); Fulton (Chelsea Lesniewski 9, Rachael Beiermann 3, Kylie Kennedy 3, Morgan Wierema 3, Ann Renkes 3). Assists — Morrison (Jessica Wade 8); Fulton (Olivia Edfors 11, Beiermann 8). Ace serves — Morrison (Workman 2); Fulton (Kennedy 3, Katherine Wayne 2). Blocks — Morrison (Banks 4, Workman 3); Fulton (Lesniewski 1, Betsy Leonard 1). Digs — Morrison (Jade Koch 10, Chelsea Eads 7); Fulton (Wayne 10, Kennedy 4, Beiermann 4).