FULTON -- The Fulton Hornets took first in Pool A but went out in the first tournament round against the Fatima Comets, who ended their season last year.
Fulton beat the Bowling Green Lady Cats 2-0 (25-23, 25-11), drew 1-1 with the Owensville Dutchgirls (20-25, 25-17) and won 2-0 against the North Callaway Ladybirds (25-21, 25-15) in Pool A before falling 2-0 (24-26, 18-25) to Fatima in the first knockout round of the Melissa Hoerber Invitational Tournament Saturday at Fulton High School.
After the Hornets won five of their six pool play sets, Fulton volleyball coach Nicole Murphy shared her thoughts on the team's performance.
"It was awesome to take first," Fulton volleyball coach Nicole Murphy said. "I'm proud of the girls for doing that. We just started today off really slow; it was rough.
"I purposely designed the pools the way they were just because one pool was a little bit more competitive. And I wanted it to be fair for both sides. But proud of them for taking first; it's just I don't think we set the tone for a very successful day starting out this morning."
Fulton had time to relax and hang out before its first knockout round match against the Comets.
That break seemed to help the Hornets early on against the Comets, as they took an early 6-2 lead in the first set. Mariah Reed recorded a kill in that run, and the rest of the points were earned on Fatima hitting the ball out of play.
The Comets responded by tying it at 6-6 following that strong start. Fatima's Vivian Bax and Jacey Hoskins notched a kill apiece, and the Hornets sent the ball out twice to account for the four-point comeback.
After the two teams exchanged a point to tie it at 7-7, Fulton went on a 7-0 run -- the longest of the match. During the run, the Hornets' Mackenzie Wilson tallied a kill, Mariah Reed an ace and Breiana Knighten a block.
Fatima earned one point before the Hornets scored the next three to go up 17-8, the most significant advantage either team had in the match. Hornets freshman Hallie Howard's block gave Fulton its biggest lead.
Following Howard's block, Fulton struggled and let Fatima outscore it 16-7 to bring the set to a tie at 24-24. The Hornets only earned three of their seven points from kills, and the Comets hit the ball in spots Fulton wasn't in all but one of the extended rallies -- there were around five or six lengthy points.
That's how the first set ended, as Fatima earned the set point when Fulton hit the net on a back-and-forth rally.
The Comets maintained their performance in the latter stages of the first set for the entire second set.
Proving so, Fatima tallied nine kills and five aces to Fulton's five kills and no aces.
"Fatima is always solid; Fatima has been solid, gosh, since I was in high school," Murphy said. "And, of course, they've got a great coach, Ellie Crede. She knows everything about volleyball, and then Tracy (Quinn), her assistant coach. He's been around volleyball since I can remember; I used to play with him. So they've got a great coaching staff. They have great, solid girls with great work ethics. They'll go far this year. We'll have a good season. They play a little bit tougher competition than us."
While the Comets had a dominating set, their largest lead was six points -- three less than the Hornets' greatest advantage in the match.
When the match was done and dusted, it came down to Fatima playing better when it mattered most.
"They had all the potential in the world to beat them," Murphy said. "As you see, we were winning. It just came down to a lot of mental errors, mental focus, mental errors.
"That inevitably led to a little bit of a weak spot with our freshmen. That is going to take some work. So, luckily, it's early in the season. Got to get them prepared for tougher matches to come.
"And then I really need my seniors to step up their leadership just a little bit. I think they did a decent job at it today, but we could work on it."
There was an interesting connection between the Fulton and Fatima coaches, however. Murphy coached Comets coach Ellie Crede, and both played college volleyball at Columbia College -- they weren't teammates, though.
"She's an outstanding athlete," Murphy said. "She was setting records at Columbia College. She was a huge impact for them. Unfortunately, her season or her career had to end just because of injury. But I wish she was still out there playing, but since she's not playing, Fatima gets a wonderful coach."
Results aside, it was an exciting time for the Hornets to hold their third annual tournament in their new gym, which has more space and made for a better experience for spectators and teams alike.
"I love having the new gym," Murphy said. "The thought was thrown around about adding a JV tournament next year. I talked to a bunch of the coaches, maybe bringing their JV teams, running a JV in the old gym, varsity in the new gym. But overall, I think it's been a competitive tournament. I think everybody's loving the new gym being spread out the new environment. And yeah, I think I think overall the tournament is going really smoothly."
North Callaway also took part in the tournament, replacing a team that backed out.
In Pool A play, the Ladybirds lost 2-0 to Owensville (18-25, 17-25), 2-0 to Bowling Green (24-26, 16-25) and in two sets to Fulton. During the first knockout round, North Callaway fell in two sets to the eventual tournament champion, the Savannah Savages.
The Ladybirds' Rylee Horstman had nine kills throughout the day, and Riley Blevins had 52 digs in the eight sets played.
After the tournament, the all-tournament team was announced, and each school had one player selected.
The Hornets' Emily Elias and North Callaway's Blevins were included in the all-tournament team.
Fulton (7-1-1) will be back in action when it hosts Osage (2-2) at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
"We went to four with them last year, was a really competitive game at their place," Murphy said. "I'm hoping that after maybe a day of rest tomorrow, the girls are ready to come out. They don't have school on Monday. It's a professional development day for teachers. So they come out, they come rested and clear heads, and they're ready to go on Monday."