Advancing to the Gold Flight for the first time since joining the Casey-Westfield Invitational, the Fairfield Lady Mules suffered their first loss of the year but bounced back to claim the third-place trophy in the always difficult early-season tournament.
Fairfield went 3-0 in pool play, starting with two straight sets wins. They beat the Salt Fork Storm, 25-12, 25-14. The Mule gals then easily handled Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond (ALAH), 25-8, 25-10.
That set up a showdown with the Newton Lady Eagles, one of the teams Fairfield coach Chet Snyder noted in the preseason would be one of the tougher foes they would face this year.
Fairfield nipped Newton in the opening set, 26-24. The Lady Eagles came back and won the second set, 25-21 to force the rubber game.
In the third set, Fairfield took control early, scoring the first nine points with Kylie Stewart serving. Jacklyn Simms had two kills and a block in the surge, while Stewart served one ace. Newton broke the streak and scored two in a row, but then Fairfield scored three in a row on an attack error, another kill by Simms and an ace by Chloe Britton.
Fairfield went up 14-3 on a block by Nadia Reid and then clinched the win at 15-4 on a Newton attack put into the net. That moved Fairfield to 3-0 and flight champions.
Joining Fairfield in the gold flight was the other two pool winners—Hartsburg-Emden and Tolono Unity. Newton also advanced to the gold flight as the top runner-up.
Newton showed they belonged when they knocked off Hartsburg in the first semifinal, 25-10, 25-23.
Push Unity To Three
Fairfield faced Tolono Unity in a matchup of two undefeated, top-10 ranked 2A teams.
Fairfield pushed Unity to three sets, but ultimately fell. The Rockets won, 29-31, 25-18, 15-12.
In the opening set, Fairfield trailed 11-10 before ripping off four in a row, with two kills by Britton and one by Reid. Tolono caught back up at 17 and then passed the Mules at 20-19. They traded points back and fourth the rest of the way.
Fairfield was the first to 25, getting a kill from Simms to break a 24-24 tie. Tolono got back-to-back kills to get to game point. Stewart had a crosscourt kill to extend the game. An attack error put Tolono back in front, but then Britton had another kill for a tie at 28. Another attack error put the Rockets in front once again. For the third time, Fairfield fought off game point, with a missed serve tying the game at 29. Simms put down a kill to get to game point and Fairfield finally put them away at 31-29.
Tolono took control of the second set early, jumping out to a 15-2 lead with both of Fairfield’s points coming off attack errors. Fairfield regrouped and went on a 14-3 run to get back within four. Unity ended the surge and scored four straight before Fairfield answered with four in a row, led by a block from Leah Bowers and a kill by Britton.
That pulled Fairfield back within four but Tolono scored the final three in a row, including two aces to end the set.
In the third set, Fairfield took a 6-4 lead before giving up three in a row. The Mules scored four of the next six to lead 10-9, but then gave up four of the next five to fall behind, 13-11.
Simms had a kill to pull Fairfield within one but Tolono scored two in a row to send them to the championship and Fairfield into the third place game.
Mules vs. Stags
Fairfield met up with Hartsburg-Emden in the third place match, and came away with a 25-22, 25-22 win over the Stags.
Fairfield fell behind 16-11 in the first set and battled back to a tie at 17. After Hartsburg went up 18-17, Fairfield finished off the set on an 8-4 run to take the set.
In the title tilt, the Tolono Unity Rockets beat Newton, 25-18, 25-19, to remain undefeated on the year. They improved to 10-0 with the win.
Both of Fairfield’s outsider hitters, Jacklyn Simms and Kylie Stewart were named to the all-tournament team.
Fairfield (10-1) returns home Thursday to host the Grayville Bison. They will play in the Benton Invitational Saturday, giving them three tournaments in the first three weeks of the season. Their last tournament will not come until the final Saturday of the regular season, when they host their second of the year.