FARMINGTON – Fulton played a super sectional to reach the supersectional.
The Steamers "served" notice that they're a force to be reckoned with, dominating Abingdon-Avon in a 25-19, 25-13 win Thursday in the Farmington Sectional championship.
"We struggled a little bit at practice [Wednesday], and I always say, 'The way you practice is the way you're going to perform,'" Fulton coach Stacy Germann said. "So, I was a little nervous. Lately we're been playing solid. We kind of dipped down a little bit a few times, but they pulled it together again."
Fulton (15-17) piled up 12 aces, nine in the second set alone. The Steamers, who began the postseason 11-17, advance to Saturday's Bureau Valley Supersectional to meet Fieldcrest at 7 p.m. Fieldcrest beat Watseka 25-18, 25-21 to win the El Paso-Gridley Sectional.
Fulton could not have started better, jumping in front 8-1, with sophomore Betsy Leonard putting down four kills and a block in the burst. Leonard finished with match-highs of seven kills and four blocks.
"This feels amazing," Leonard said. "It's the farthest we've went in a long time in the state tournament. Coming out with a big lead gets you pumped. They got close, but we're good under pressure. We aren't scared of any pressure."
Fulton's last sectional title came in 2003. That team went 33-2-1 and lost to Eastland in the Elite Eight.
A short time later, the Steamers extended to a 14-4 advantage, thanks to a pair of kills by Chelsea Lesniewski and another from Rachael Beiermann.
"We were kicking their butts at the beginning. That was awesome," said Lesniewski, who had a team-high five aces to go with 3 kills.
Leading 18-8, Fulton saw Abingdon-Avon (21-11) fight back, using a 10-2 tear to pull within 20-18.
With the score 21-19, kills by Lesniewski and Beiermann propelled the Steamers to a 4-0 set-ending flurry.
The Tornadoes took their first lead of the night at 2-1 to start Set 2 before Fulton worked ahead 9-5.
Leonard supplied an ace, a block and a kill during that stretch, which also included kills by Jamie Huennekens and Camerin Huizenga, and an ace from Ann Renkes.
Abingdon-Avon took its only other lead at 11-10, but the Steamers would have none of it, responding with a match-ending 15-2 blitz.
Three aces by Lesniewski and a kill by Beiermann made it 16-11. A Leonard block proceeded three straight aces by Renkes to make it 21-12.
Blocks by Huennekens and Leonard, and an ace from Beiermann got Fulton to match point, which was won on a Tornado error.
"I do a jump serve, and when it works its pretty on," Lesniewski said.
Star of the match: Betsy Leonard, Fulton, 7 kills, 4 blocks
Key performers: Chelsea Lesniewski, Fulton, 5 aces, 3 kills; Ann Renkes, Fulton, 4 aces; Rachael Beiermann, Fulton, 3 kills, 2 aces
Up next: Bureau Valley Super-Sectional, Fulton vs. Fieldcrest, 7 p.m. Saturday