PORT BYRON – Fulton coach Stacy Germann loves it when her volleyball teams “play intellectually” on the court.
Her Steamers used their volleyball IQ perfectly Thursday against Prophetstown in the 2A Riverdale Regional championship.
An adjustment on defense made life tough for the Prophet hitters, and the Steamers won their first regional title since 2006 with a 25-13, 25-21 victory in Port Byron.
“Prophetstown’s a scrappy team, and they never go away,” Germann said, “but they struggled with serve receive a little bit, and our girls really implemented the adjustments we made defensively tonight. We got into a clutch match, and they did the things we worked on in practice [Wednesday] like they’ve been doing them all year.”
The adjustments involved repositioning the Steamer defenders, and putting them in spots where Prophetstown (12-20) was most likely to hit their spikes. The end result was Fulton’s third win over the Prophets this season, and second in 9 days.
“Coach had it all planned out, and we all grasped it quickly at practice,” senior Rachael Beiermann said. “We knew what to expect, and we got things going our way right away.”
As the Prophets struggled to get anything going offensively, Fulton (13-17) took advantage. Beiermann’s kill sparked an early run, and back-to-back kills by Camerin Huizenga, followed by a Betsy Leonard block and a Jamie Huennekens ace, gave the Steamers an 8-2 lead right out of the gate.
Chelsea Lesniewski bookended another Fulton run with kills, and a combo block from Beiermann and Ann Renkes put Fulton up 16-4 in the opening set. A Claire Milnes kill and a Clare Kramer point brought the Prophets to within seven at 19-12, but Leonard’s kill went for a sideout, and Lesniewski pounded back-to-back spikes before Leonard served out the set.
“Once we get the lead, everything starts clicking for us,” Leonard said. “We relax, we keep feeding off the momentum, and we just seem to be able to keep things going our way.”
The feisty Prophets wouldn’t go away, but the equally scrappy Steamers were ready. Fulton took a 9-4 lead in the second set after a pair of aces from Leonard, and took Prophetstown’s best shot in stride.
Kills from Kramer and Milnes brought the Prophets within 13-12, then a Milnes kill after a Fulton hitting error tied the second set at 14. Back-to-back kills by Karlie Stafford a few points later tied the score at 17, and the Prophets were eyeing a third set.
“The girls kept clawing and scratching, just kept plugging away, but we didn’t have it when we really needed it tonight,” Prophetstown coach Arthur Wyckoff said. “Fulton’s defense moved really well tonight – it seemed like they were everywhere we wanted to hit it – and we just couldn’t get anything going consistently.”
Huizenga’s block snapped the tie, and Lesniewski slammed back-to-back kills to give the Steamers some breathing room. Another Lesniewski kill followed Olivia Edfors’ ace, then a kill from Beiermann and a Lesniewski ace gave Fulton match point.
After a service error and hitting error by the Steamers, Beiermann rattled a kill home off a Prophetstown block to set off a wild celebration with the Fulton players and fans.
“We knew Prophetstown would never give up, but once we got the momentum, we kept it up and weren’t going to be stopped,” Lesniewski said. “When we get ahead, we don’t get down on ourselves as easily, and when we stay positive and excited, the momentum just keeps rolling for us.”
Lesniewski had 10 kills and six digs for the Steamers, while Leonard added four kills and three aces. Beiermann stuffed the stat sheet with eight kills, 10 assists, five points and a block, and Edfors matched those 10 assists and served nine points and two aces. Huizenga finished with three kills and two blocks, Huennekens had seven points and six digs, and Averi Leitzen chipped in seven digs.
Stafford’s seven kills paced the Prophets, while Kramer added five kills and 10 digs, and Milnes finished with four kills. Kate Fringer chipped in 15 assists, seven digs, two kills and a block, and Katlyn Shirley had eight digs.
Fulton will face Orion, a 25-21, 25-20 winner over Sherrard in the 2A Rockridge Regional final, in the semifinals of the 2A Farmington Sectional, at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“This just feels awesome,” Beiermann said, “and we’ve got so much confidence and trust in each other. The first part of the season, things weren’t really cranking; now, it’s flowing so well for us, and we’re ready to set a new goal of winning a sectional.”
Class 2A Riverdale Regional final
Fulton def. Prophetstown 25-13, 25-21
Star of the match: Rachael Beiermann, Fulton, 8 kills, 10 assists, 5 points, 1 block
Key performers: Chelsea Lesniewski, Fulton, 10 kills, 6 digs; Betsy Leonard, Fulton, 4 kills, 1 block, 3 aces; Kate Fringer, Prophetstown, 15 assists, 7 digs, 2 kills, 1 block; Clare Kramer, Prophetstown, 5 kills, 10 digs
Up next: Class 2A Farmington Sectional semifinal, Fulton vs. Orion, 6 p.m. Tuesday