MANLIUS – A strong start and scrappy finish showed the Fulton Steamers' spunk. The consistent Fieldcrest offense in between is why the Knights are headed to the state tournament.
The Steamers looked good early and fought back late, but the Knights were too much in a 25-23, 25-18 victory Saturday night at the Class 2A Bureau Valley Supersectional.
"We knew this was going to be a tough team to beat, so we wanted to come out strong and play like we have been the last couple of weeks," Fulton senior Rachael Beiermann said. "We got off to that fast start, but it seemed like it kind of woke them up and got them going."
After the Steamers (15-18) opened up leads of 8-4 and 13-8 in the first set, Fieldcrest (33-4) called timeout to regroup. Coming out of the break, the Knights seemed like a different team.
Tessa Holland got involved in the middle, blocking a Fulton spike and then ripping a kill. After an Ann Renkes kill, Fulton served out of bounds, then Haley Ruestman pounded back-to-back kills for a 15-14 Fieldcrest lead.
The Knights got kills from Courtney Moritz and Kaitlyn Petersen to take a 19-16 lead, but feisty Fulton fought back. Betsy Leonard's tip-kill went for a sideout, then a Fieldcrest lift and a Camerin Huizenga block knotted the score at 19.
Hannah Peterson followed her own block with consecutive kills to put the Knights back up 22-19, but a Lesniewski kill out of a Fulton timeout started another Steamer spurt. They tied the score at 22 and 23 on Fieldcrest hitting errors, but a Fulton hitting error and another Ruestman kill closed the first set.
"If we won that first game, things might have been completely different," Fulton coach Stacy Germann said. "But when we didn't, it took the wind out of us a little bit, and opened the door for old habits and doubts to start creeping in. We were apprehensive, and I saw a little fear from us – something I hadn't seen in a long time."
"We knew they were really scrappy and they'd keep fighting back," said Kaitlyn Petersen, who led the Knights with 10 kills. "But we've got multiple big hitters who work together well, and once we took the momentum, we weren't giving it back."
The second set started out all Fieldcrest. Holland's block kick-started a 15-4 run, with Kaitlyn Petersen smashing four kills in a five-point span and Holland adding another block and two kills in the spurt.
"That first set, we didn't really know what to expect from them," said Holland, who finished with four kills, five blocks and a team-high five digs. "That second set, we knew what they wanted to do and we stopped it, then took advantage of what they were giving us."
Not surprisingly the scrappy Steamers weren't done yet. Leonard's kill went for a sideout, then she smashed another one after consecutive Fieldcrest hitting errors to get within 16-11.
Another Holland kill, two Kaitlyn Petersen kills, and two more stuffs by Holland pushed the Knights' lead back to 22-12, but again Fulton battled. Back-to-back kills by Lesniewski, then a block and a kill by Beiermann cut the deficit to 22-16, then a Renkes tip-kill and a Jamie Huennekens spike followed a Kaitlyn Petersen kill to get the Steamers within 23-18.
"We realized that it was almost over, and we figured why give up now?" Fulton senior Olivia Edfors said. "We worked hard the whole season, giving it our all and always fighting back, and there was no reason for us not to do the same at the end."
"We felt like we had a chance to force a third set," Steamer sophomore Averi Leitzen added, "and we did what we had to do to fight back. We really wanted it, and we finally got our confidence going again late in that second set."
But Ruestman's back-row kill gave the Knights a sideout, then Moritz set Hannah Peterson for one final spike off the Fulton block to finish the set and the match.
Leonard and Lesniewski spiked seven kills apiece to lead the Steamers, with Leonard adding two blocks, six points and two aces. Lesniewski chipped in five points, an ace and eight digs, and Beiermann finished with seven assists, five digs, two kills and two blocks.
Edfors set 11 assists and served five points, Huizenga stuffed three blocks, and Leitzen dug up 15 Fieldcrest spikes. Huennekens added two kills, two blocks and four points, and Renkes chipped in two kills and a block.
"We really did think we had a great chance to win both sets," Leonard said, "and we worked hard to get that momentum from the start back at the end. We built the lead like we've been doing, but that was a great team, and we just couldn't keep it."
Hannah Peterson finished with five kills and a block for Fieldcrest, while Ruestman added four kills and four points. Gracie Wiesenhofer set 15 assists and served five points, and Moritz had 11 assists, six points, four digs and three kills for the Knights, who are making their first trip to state in school history in any sport.
Class 2A Bureau Valley Supersectional
Fieldcrest def. Fulton 25-23, 25-18
Star of the match: Kaitlyn Petersen, Fieldcrest, 10 kills, 5 points, 2 aces
Key performers: Tessa Holland, Fieldcrest, 4 kills, 5 blocks, 5 digs; Courtney Moritz, Fieldcrest, 11 assists, 3 kills, 6 points, 4 digs; Betsy Leonard, Fulton, 7 kills, 2 blocks, 6 points, 2 aces; Chelsea Lesniewski, Fulton, 7 kills, 8 digs, 5 points, 1 ace