JOHNSTON CITY – Fairfield gave another exhibition Tuesday night of why it appears well-equipped for another long postseason run, even with stiffer competition awaiting it when it gets to November.
Flashing balance across the front and outstanding defense in the back row, the Mules bagged a 25-16, 25-19 Black Diamond Conference East win over Johnston City in chilly Starrick Gym.
In upping its record to 23-1 overall and 6-0 in the conference, Fairfield got a brilliant individual effort from setter Chloe Britton. She collected 10 kills in a versatile performance and also dished out 16 assists, mixing up the kill opportunities among Nadia Reid, Kylie Stewart, Jacklyn Simms and Leah Bowers.
“Offensively, we’re very balanced,” Mules coach Chet Snyder said. “We’ve got five girls who can hit the ball well, and we passed the ball better tonight. We served better tonight, and that helped tremendously.”
Expected to be one of the best teams in Southern Illinois, Fairfield has not disappointed. The senior and junior-laden Mules play with a poise befitting their experience. If a team gets 25 points in a set to beat them, it will generally have to earn 23 of them.
Aside from falling into a 13-4 first set hole, the Indians (11-12, 2-6) didn’t play badly. They scrapped with Fairfield on almost every point. But the Mules gave up just two points in the first game off their mistakes, and it’s that kind of consistency which makes them a tough out every night.
“Our goal was going into the game to try to get at least 15 points in game one and see what happens from there,” said Indians coach Jonathan Watts. “We wanted to score 20 points in the second game and go from there.
“We got to 16 and 19, so we were one over in the first game and one over in the second. I was pleased with our performance tonight, and to make them call a timeout in game two said volumes for how we played.”
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The timeout occurred after Johnston City used some unusually sloppy play from Fairfield to open up a 5-3 edge in the second game. Even then, the Indians never went away. It was 10-10 and 17-15 before the Mules finally opened up breathing room with a 7-2 spurt.
Britton, who’s sort of a human Swiss Army knife because of her multiple skills, bagged three kills during the run, including a perfectly-disguised dump for a 21-16 advantage. Later, she teed up the high-flying Simms for a kill that made it 23-17.
It was the 14th consecutive win for Fairfield, whose only loss occurred in a three-set grinder to Tolono Unity on Sept. 7 at the Casey-Westfield Classic. The Mules are coming off a 31-9 season which saw them reach the McLeansboro Super-Sectional before falling in three games to Nashville.
“That set us up for this year,” Snyder said. “We had a good nucleus back, and we’d love to get to (Normal), but it got tougher for us with the Breese schools and Freeburg now in 2A. But we have to take it one match at a time.
“We have enough offense, we have the best libero (Lexi Hobbs) in Southern Illinois, and we have good setting. Any time the ball goes up, I like our chances.”
Fairfield ends the season with a challenging schedule, including its own tournament on Oct. 26. But a trip to 24-1 NCOE on October 22 looks like a particularly tasty match. Snyder and Cardinals coach Jaclyn Melton are hoping to pack the Cardinals’ gym that night.
The Mules outlasted NCOE on Aug. 31 in a tough three-setter.
“It’s going to be a tremendous match,” Watts predicted. “Both teams have tremendous size up front and great blocks. I think there was only eight points that separated all three games the first time.”