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PICKING UP SILVER

SECOND FOR THE KNIGHTS – Fieldcrest took runner-up in the Illinois Elementary School Association 7AAA state tournament held this past weekend at Decatur Lutheran. In the front row from the left are: Tristin Freeman, Kaitlin White, Bella Fortner, Kalla Burns and Cassidy Palm. Middle row: Clare Phillips, Emma Hartley, Riley Burton, Phoebe Griffin and Kyra Cunningham. Back row: Abby Budke (head coach), Ava Marty, Kaylin Rients, Aja Mesearchik, Aliah Celis, Allie Wiesenhofer and Carol Bauer (assistant coach) (For the Journal/TNT Photo).

WENONA – Fieldcrest has brought back Illinois Elementary School Association state trophies in baseball, boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball and softball, but never in volleyball… until now.

The seventh-grade team took second place in the three A state tournament this past weekend at Decatur Lutheran. The Knights finished with a program-best 24 wins versus three losses. They swept Wilmington 25-18, 25-21 in the fourth and final quarterfinal Friday evening, turned around early Saturday afternoon to down St. Joseph 25-18, 25-16 in the semifinals before they fell just over an hour later 25-14, 25-18 in the championship match to 28-0 Pleasant Plains.

According to head coach Abby Budke, she felt confident Fieldcrest would be over .500, but she had no idea they would play on the final day of the season.

“I had an inkling,” commented Budke, who has coached volleyball in the district for 15 years. “They were awfully talented more talented than what we had come in a few years.”

Fieldcrest began the season with a 15-0 record before they tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of Germantown Hills.

According to Budke, she was not surprised the Knights started the season so strong.

“I did. We have some girls who have competed in club ball,” said Budke, whose offense operated out of a 6-2. “A lot of girls are multi-sport athletes.”

After they breezed through the Peru Parkside Regional, the Knights stayed home to face Chillicothe in the sectional on March 4. Earlier in the season, Fieldcrest knocked off Chillicothe in three sets.

The second match was decidedly closer, as the hosts won the first set 25-23 and the guests took the second 25-20. In a nip-and-tuck deciding third, the Knights came out on top 25-23.

“They were so nervous about advancing,” recalled Budke of the match. “We missed seven serves in the second set. That was one of the reasons why it was so back and forth. We tell the girls it (a missed serve) is a mental mistake.”

Despite the serving woes in the sectional, that was one of the team’s strengths.

“For seventh-grade, our priority is about 85 percent,” stated Budke of getting the serve in. “For this group, it was 90 percent. We did not struggle until the higher pressure matches.”

Allie Wiesenhofer notched eight points versus Wilmington, while Riley Burton (six) and Bella Fortner (five) aided to the cause. Fortner rang up 11 points in the semis, while Aliah Celis followed with eight. Fortner, Wiesenhofer, Kaylin Rients and Kaitlin White were in the starting lineup, while Burton, Celis, Kyra Cunningham, Emma Hartley and Aja Mesarchik also saw court time.

Being on the bottom half of the state bracket, Fieldcrest played three matches in a span of just over 19 hours and had very little time to rest and prepare for PP.

“The biggest thing I was concerned about was we were supposed to start our first match at 8:15 and we did not start until 8:50, 8:55,” said Budke, whose hometown is Hoopeston, located in the eastern portion of the state near the Indiana border. “We had one starter (White) who was out sick. We had an hour and a half bus ride and a quick turnaround. I thought they might perform poorly, but they were sharp Saturday. I think they used their adrenaline.”

The rest of the squad members included: Kalla Burns, Tristin Freeman, Phoebe Griffin, Ava Marty, Cassidy Palm and Clare Phillips.

Notes: Fieldcrest’s only other loss came to Illini Bluffs. The previous two appearances in volleyball occurred on the eighth-grade level. The school held an assembly at the start of Tuesday to honor the team.

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