FULTON -- As one of just two seniors on the Erie volleyball roster, Paige Rus remembers a not-too-distant time when a situation like Thursday night would have derailed any hopes of victory.|
After taking the opening set of a key Three Rivers Conference match with Fulton, the Cardinals had to deal not only with a second-game delay as officials tried to work out a glitch with the Steamers' rotation, but a wild finish in which Fulton was one point away from forcing a decisive third set.
With Rus and sophomore Savannah Mettler (nine kills each) stepping up their games down the stretch, Erie was able to avoid that third game, holding off the Steamers for a 25-22, 29-27 win. That victory boosts the Cardinals (16-8, 7-3 TRAC-9) past Fulton (8-12, 7-4) and into second place behind only three-time reigning champion Riverdale.
"We really have come a long ways,'' said Rus. "In years past, we might have given up, but we've got determination and fire underneath us. All of us really wanted this one, and we were all focused and fired up.''
Down 4-3 early in the second set, there was a bit of drama as questions arose regarding who was supposed to be serving for Fulton. After it was determined that the wrong player was serving for the Steamers, but that it was an officials' error resulting in no loss of points, the hosts gradually worked their way to an 11-8 lead before the Cardinals hit their stride.
"We just felt we had to start over,'' said Rus. "We had to start fresh, and not let that get into our heads.''
Having been named the No. 1 seed of its own Class 1A regional tournament earlier Thursday, Erie showed the resolve of a top-seeded club as the front-line play of Rus and Mettler was augmented by freshman Rachel Cobert's five kills and four blocks. Senior setter Katelyn Temple dished out 11 assists, followed by Deanna Black with seven helpers and four digs.
"Even in the midst of that long (second set) lull, the girls kept on pushing. They knew what they wanted, and they got it,'' said Erie coach Alicia Murphy, whose club dropped a three-set heartbreaker to Fulton at the Cardinal Cage nearly a month ago. "Our setters did a good job of feeding whoever was on fire. This is where we want to be, where we want to build from.''
However, the Steamers came away from Thursday's match feeling better about themselves in spite of the loss, with strong play from several Fulton players reinforced that feeling. Rachael Beiermann had an outstanding all-around game with eight kills, 12 assists and two aces, with Morgan Wierema checking in with seven kills and five blocks and Kylie Kennedy adding 10 digs and five kills.
"We've been struggling lately, so even though this was a loss, it almost feels like a win,'' said Fulton coach Stacy Germann. "We put it all on the table, and played with a lot of heart. I think if we'd gotten it to a third game, I like to think we could've taken it all, but unfortunately, we didn't get that chance.''