FORTVILLE — After two tough losses against a pair of top-five, state-ranked opponents, Class 4A No. 7 Mt. Vernon needed a pick-me-up.
On Tuesday night at home, the Marauders got one, and they rediscovered their swagger in the process.
Southern Illinois recruit Cecilia Bulmahn hammered down a team-high 18 kills, senior setter Rylee Ugen continued to march towards 2,000 career assists and senior Tatum Fitzgerald was nearly perfect on her attack attempts as the Marauders swept rival Greenfield-Central, 3-0.
“We had really good team chemistry this game. We were kind of rough on each other the past two games, since we were all pretty angry about the losses, but to win tonight and sweep them was really good to bring our team chemistry back,” Fitzgerald said.
The shutout win ended a short-lived two-game losing streak for the Marauders (13-3), who improved to 3-1 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference while halting the visiting Cougars’ (4-9, 1-3 HHC) recent two-game run.
Greenfield-Central entered the night shorthanded due to injuries and quarantines, but they forced 14 ties overall despite losing 11-25, 14-25, 16-25.
Sophomore Mya Grigsby and freshman Rilee Roland each finished with five kills apiece to lead the Cougars, while senior Lauren Silcox had seven digs.
Senior setter Morgan Hornaday posted a double-double with 10 digs and 12 assists, including a lob to supply the match’s first point on a Roland kill.
The Cougars’ bench erupted seconds after the play was executed to celebrate Hornaday’s 2,000th-career assist.
“We fought hard right out of the gate, then we had eight hitting errors in a row,” Greenfield-Central head coach Ron Heck said. “Again, with the youth, it kind of takes an edge off our younger kids.”
In the first set, there were six ties and one lead change, following the Cougars’ initial 1-0 advantage.
With the game tied 8-all, however, the Marauders went on the offensive, rallying for a 17-3 run to establish a 14-point lead they never relinquished.
“They had been in a little bit of a funk, and we tried some things tonight that didn’t quite work, but we’re going to keep working on it at practice,” Mt. Vernon head coach Eric Bulmahn said.
“I talked to (Rylee Ugen) before the match. I told her, ‘You can’t get too focused and just set outside all the time. We’re going to have some errors, but I need you to start working it.’ So, she was running the offense all over.”
Honored prior to the match for surpassing the 1,500 career-assist plateau, Ugen carried 1,567 sets before upping the number to 1,593 with 26 against Greenfield-Central.
“She’s very important for us. She runs it to everybody. She’s really good at knowing where everybody needs to hit, and she’s come a long way since last year,” Fitzgerald said.
Ugen set Bulmahn for a pair of kills to break the final stalemate in the first set and zeroed in on Fitzgerald at the end for the final three kills and points.
Fitzgerald had 10 kills with one hitting error in 16 attempts.
“We’ve really tried to develop that second weapon, and Tatum has really come on as that second weapon,” Bulmahn said. “That helps carry the load.”
Fitzgerald had three key kills during the Marauders 16-2 rally in the second set that snapped an early 4-all tie.
The game featured two early deadlocks before the Marauders won the set wire-to-wire with the final point coming off an Ugen ace. She had three and two slick kills near the net.
Mt. Vernon, once again, built a 14-point lead in the second, but the match was tight in the third with six ties and three lead changes.
The Cougars struck first and held the lead three times before a Cecilia Bulmahn kill kicked off a 7-0 run that provided a seven-point cushion and the program’s eventual eighth shutout win this season.
“That third set is more like how volleyball is played, in my opinion. It’s a game of runs and momentum shifts, but when they go on a run of maybe three or four in a row, it’s tough on my young kids to recover mentally,” Heck said. “It’s just hard mentally.”
The Marauders learned how tough the game can be after falling to HHC foe 4A No. 5 Yorktown, 3-0, Thursday on the road and to 4A No. 3 Roncalli, 3-1, away on Monday. The Marauders only other loss is to 4A No. 9 Brownsburg, 3-2, on Aug. 31.
“These are all good competition matches, like Roncalli. They’re a great team. We played pretty well, but they forced us to raise our level,” Eric Bulmahn said. “We might see them at regional. We might see Brownsburg at regional. I’d love to get to regional, to get that opportunity, but, at least, we are playing that type of competition. We go up, Saturday, to Bellmont, who is ranked 15th overall, so it will be another Brebeuf-type game.”
The Marauders beat 3A No. 2 Brebeuf Jesuit, 3-1, at home on Sept. 7. While Mt. Vernon defeated Greenfield-Central on Tuesday night, Brebeuf defeated Roncalli, which echoes the parity in the state rankings this season.
“It’s very crazy. Roncalli beat us in four, and we beat Brebeuf in four and Brebeuf just swept them, so it’s crazy,” Fitzgerald said.
So is the Marauders’ sectional path, which includes defending state champion Yorktown, and historic powerhouse New Castle, who Mt. Vernon will travel to face on Thursday for another HHC match.
They also head to Bellmont for a tournament on Saturday.
“We learned that we can beat (Yorktown). We can beat them any year, but we went into the game kind of in our heads, thinking we were going to lose, because we lost those matches in other years,” Fitzgerald said. “I think, we know now where to hit the ball and play defense, so we’re going to be ready come sectional.”
Mt. Vernon’s last sectional title came in 2016. In the meantime, Yorktown has won three IHSAA state titles over that span, including two in 4A.
“We’re getting ready for sectional, so it was a good win,” Fitzgerald said.
Greenfield-Central had beaten Cowan, 3-0, on Sept. 7, and knocked off New Castle, 3-0, on Thursday to win two straight.
Tonight’s loss opened a difficult stretch ahead.
“This is the first night of back-to-back-to-back. We have three in a row this week. We just have to tell the kids to forget about it. They can’t dwell on this game. It can’t be a carryover for tomorrow,” Heck said. “At least we have a home and home, which is beneficial.”