ORION — Since taking its only loss nearly a month ago, Tuesday night was a date the Orion volleyball team had been anxiously awaiting.
Rematched with Three Rivers West Division rival Fulton, which battled to a three-set win in the teams' Sept. 17 meeting, the Chargers fed off a large crowd on "Spike Out Cancer" night as well as their desire for redemption, and the results showed in a 25-20, 25-19 sweep of the Steamers.
"It was super exciting to have this tonight against Fulton," Orion senior outside hitter Sarah Jacobsen said of Tuesday's event. "This was a huge match for us. Not only is every win huge, but this could add `2019' on our list of conference championships."
As she said that, Jacobsen gestured to a banner on the gymnasium wall that listed Orion's run of conference championships, including its ongoing string of seven consecutive Three Rivers Conference titles. That said, she was quick to note that the TRAC West season was not done yet, with four league matches remaining.
"It might be a little early to say that," she said. "It's not over. Far from it. It's not only conference, but the postseason, which is when teams' true colors show. We're hoping to peak there."
While Tuesday's win was far from the summit they hope to achieve, it did seem to be a mini-peak of sorts for the Chargers, who at 23-1 have now won 15 straight matches and move into a tie for the conference lead with Fulton (19-7) at 5-1.
The hosts set the tone with their dominating performance at the net, especially the trio of Jacobsen (a match-high 17 kills with nine digs and three blocks), fellow senior OH Mackenzie Grafton (match-high 14 digs with eight kills and two blocks) and senior middle blocker Emiliah Morrison (eight kills and a match-best four blocks).
"We like to come out strong on the block," said Morrison. "Especially this week, we've been working hard on it in practice. It was nice to be able to come out and execute like we did."
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The desire to set things right after falling to the Steamers on their home floor added more fuel to Orion's fire.
"We wanted revenge, especially with them beating us at their place," Morrison said. "We wanted to show that we weren't going to lose on our court."
As befitting a match between two of the area's best, the first set was a back-and-forth affair for the most part. However, three straight points early in the game and a 6-0 run after Fulton tied the score at 14 ensured that the Chargers never trailed.
That was not for lack of effort on the Steamers' part, though. Apart from the efforts of senior stalwart Emily Schipper (15 digs, eight kills, two aces) and junior setter Kylee Collachia (13 assists, eight digs), Fulton got a boost from senior outside hitter Maddie Hodge. She posted seven kills and time and again found holes in the Orion backcourt.
"The only holes they had was leaving the deep corners open, and Maddie did a great job of utilizing that," said Fulton coach Stacy Germann. "That's the spot they struggle with, but we didn't hit there enough."
In the second set, the Steamers fell behind 12-7 early, but rallied to tie the game at 13 on a Schipper kill. Before Fulton could take its first lead, however, Orion responded with a 10-2 run that gave it the push it needed to complete the sweep.
"I think we came out with a lot of fire, because we knew we were playing for a chance at the (conference) title," Grafton said. "We had a lot of energy and fight. It felt like the whole town was behind us tonight. It was definitely fun to be in this environment."