Fulton volleyball has its ups and downs at the Melissa Hoerber Invitational

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Fulton’s volleyball struggled in all three of their pool matches, then struggled mentally in their 2-1 first-round playoff loss to Kirksville in Saturday’s Melissa Hoerber Invitational at Fulton.

In its three pool matches, the Hornets looked like the side that had won four games in a row to start the season. Fulton went 5-1 in sets, although Owensville and Southern Boone challenged them.

All three pool matches started 4-4 and went two sets regardless of the outcome.

At the start of the tournament, the Hornets earned their most comfortable win against Bowling Green. Fulton won the sets 25-23 and 25-19.

The first set saw the Hornets and Lady Cats go back and forth before Fulton coach Nicole Murphy called a timeout with the team at 16-14.

After the break, the whole team resumed their game, beating Bowling Green 8-0 and taking a 22-16 lead.

The Lady Cats did their best to come back, but the Hornets dominated the rest of the set.

“After a pretty tough and contested loss on Thursday night, I was a bit worried about a slow start and we had a slow start,” Murphy said. “But they showed resilience and fought hard to come back and win that. And then building on that, I think every game we’ve played so far. And so that’s a positive point that they were able to build on improving every point.”

Fulton remained in control for the entirety of the second set as he held the lead throughout. There were a plethora of kills with a few mixed aces during this set.

Quiara Walton led the way in the second set with two aces and four kills.

“Again, I always like to get (Walton) more tweaks,” Murphy said. “We’re working on that. But she played amazing defense this game, not necessarily in the front row, but her back row was solid. That definitely led to a lot of casualties in the front row.”

Next, the Hornets faced a team from Owensville who Murphy said was the toughest to face. Fulton won both sets 25-18 and 26-24.

Fulton started strong, beating the Dutchgirls 13-6. But Owensville responded with a 5-0 run, which made it 17-14.

The two teams traded scores for a while before Fulton retired with the score at 20-18. Two of the Hornets’ last five points came courtesy of Mackenzie Wilson, who had a kill and a block.

“Really happy the whole team got to fight together and they really played as a unit,” Murphy said. “There were maybe one or two – like I said with Q and Mac – that could have outplayed everyone, but they couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team.”

Fulton’s side dominance continued into the start of the second set as the Hornets outscored the Dutchgirls 8-3, but from there it was a close affair.

The two teams traded points, with Owensville quickly gaining momentum and taking a 21-20 lead.

Fulton became a team from then on, however. Offensively, Walton and Mariah Reed had two kills apiece en route to a set and match victory.

“Mariah was amazing in the second set,” Murphy said. “She saw the field really well. She had a bunch of shots that I don’t think Owensville expected, necessarily. We worked on her wrist work and her shooting work and she really got through that. match.”

In the Hornets’ next game, they drew 1-1 with Southern Boone. Fulton lost the first set 25-17 but won the second 25-18.

Having finished the previous game strong, the Hornets looked lackluster in the opening set against the Eagles.

Southern Boone was just one step ahead in this set as the Eagles moved the ball well and set up some good shots for takedowns.

“We just don’t have the energy,” Murphy said. “I think the girls probably ate a little too much food in the locker room (laughs). But if you go out flat, any team can beat anybody at any time. You absolutely have to go out, make a leap in the points and we didn’t make it.”

Two Southern Boone players who made it difficult for Fulton were Lauren Winters and Taylor Germann, who combined seven kills, two blocks and an ace in the opening set.

Winters and Germann’s play late in the set gave the Eagles a 22-17 lead before claiming the final three points.

“Southern Boone’s Taylor Germann is definitely one of their best players,” Murphy said. “She’s in second year this year and actually plays with our libero, Emily Elias, at club level, so they’re really good friends. Every time we play them, it’s fun for me to see how good she is. “Improving. But that’s also something I emphasize when we play against Southern Boone, is that we have to stay away from Taylor, just because she’s a threat.”

Set No 2 saw each team trade scores early on, but in the second half of the game – with the score at 20-14 – Fulton led by six points or more after eight different scoring plays.

After a break in action with a chance to rest, drink water, chat with friends, etc., the Hornets team returned to business for a first-round playoff game against another school of the North Central Missouri Conference, Kirksville.

Unlike pool play, the score started at 0-0 and playoff matches were decided by the first team to win two sets.

This one-match thriller required all three sets and was filled with almost every emotion imaginable – for both teams equally.

The Tigers, who were five games under .500 before the tournament, beat the Hornets in three sets – 25-16, 24-26 and 25-21.

In the first set, Fulton looked sluggish on the court and had a few miscommunications.

Kirksville jumped to its biggest margin with the score at 20-10. The Tigers’ Malea Nelson did her part to ensure Kirksvile won the first set, registering four kills and an ace.

Fulton had energy later in the set as the team started to dive for the ball and create more chances.

“Like I told the girls, I can’t start slow,” Murphy said. “I say there’s ‘get beat’ and ‘get beat’. I really think we fought this game. I can’t wait to play them at home for a conference (game) with a full court, more fans, a bit more energy because we came out flat.”

Those chances didn’t materialize until the second set.

This set – more than any other – brought out the roller coaster of emotions. The team’s biggest lead was five when Fulton led 13-8.

From there, it was a scoring flip-flop until the Hornets took the win 26-24.

Match point was a nervy moment for both teams as the ball was kicked three times to each side before Wilson helped Walton to a set kill, which set up a set tiebreaker.

Kirksville regained control of the game, taking a 7-3 lead before Fulton went on a 5-1 run and tied at 8-8.

With the level of the game, the Tigers called a timeout, then picked up the tempo a bit. Kirksville went 11-3 before the Hornets threw one of their own.

“Timeouts can be a game-changer,” Murphy said. “Timeouts can be used to psychologically block a player who returns to serve a volleyball. As they’ve always told me since I’ve been playing, volleyball is 90% mental, it’s a mental game. “

After Kirksville’s flurry of goals, Fulton lost 11-19. The Hornets responded by scoring seven unanswered runs and put the score at 18-19.

When the score was Fulton 17-19 Kirksville, the Tigers coach called a time out. That ended up being key as Kirksville beat the Hornets 6-4 and won the game over Gracie Jones’ ace.

While the eventual outcome of the tournament may not have gone Fulton’s way, the Hornets nonetheless put on an entertaining event and honored Hoerber, who was one of the best players in the program.

Hoerber died almost two years ago at the age of 25. According to the tournament schedule, “Melissa was by far the strongest and most skilled player in nearly every match and tournament Fulton entered.”

Before playoff games began, Fulton Middle School volleyball coach Megan Youse shared what Hoerber means to the school and its volleyball program.

Joining Youse, who coached Hoeber when she played for Fulton, was Hoerber’s family.

It was a moment of tears but also of pride as the school honored everything Hoerber had done in creating this tournament. It’s not the only time this will happen either, as Fulton will host the invite every year.

At the inaugural Melissa Hoerber Invitational, California defeated Eldon to win the championship.

The Hornets (6-2-1) are back in action against Linn (0-3) at 7 p.m. Monday in Linn.

“It’s a small school,” Murphy said. “I remember playing against them when I was at Calvary, hopefully we come out competitive. It’s an easy win for us, I hope. Then on Tuesday it’s Kirksville at home.”

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