NEWTOWN — The biggest opponent the Newtown volleyball team has faced this season has been the injury bug.
It’s bitten both captains and junior libero during the middle portion of the season, which resulted in a slide down the standings.
The Nighthawks (9-5) hope Wednesday’s 3-1 (22-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-22) win over a strong Stratford squad is the beginning of a late-season surge that ends in either SWC or Class LL hardware.
“I sure hope so,” said Nighthawks coach Tom Czaplinski said. “Whether we’re healthy or not, we’re getting a lot of experience for girls who probably wouldn’t have got it. … One of the greatest things we do is try and play the toughest teams that we can and hopefully it benefits us by the time the SWC tournament rolls around.”
One of the standouts who has returned to the lineup is senior Zoe Beals, who took over late in the match against the Red Devils. Beals had 13 kills and seven digs for the match.
Stratford got off to the best possible start by claiming game one despite a late Nighthawks’ rally. A double-touch by Newtown and a ball hit into the net earned the Red Devils the win. Unfortunately for the visitors, the momentum didn’t last.
“We communicated, and the momentum was just up the entire game,” Stratford coach Lisa Buccieri said. “It just seemed like the second we were flat; it seemed like we were on our heels waiting and (Newtown) got up seven or eight points, and it’s hard to come back from that.”
Newtown’s offense got off the ground midway through the second set, paving the way for an easy win. Senior Sarah Dowling led Newtown with 14 kills and was at the heart of the offensive surge in the middle games.
“We definitely talked a lot more, passed better and played better overall,” Beals said. “We knew what we were in for, we expected a good team and we got a good team. After we saw them in the first game, we shook that off and stepped it up.”
The Nighthawks turned to Beals to finish off the match, which she did with back-to-back kills to push an advantage to 21-16. Stratford (10-2) displayed resiliency by winning three straight points — all off long rallies — to pull to within 24-22, but Dowling ended the match with a kill.
“(Beals) is getting back into shape,” Czaplinski said. “She’s not jumping quite as high or moving in the back row as before, but her presence is huge for the girls we need her out there.”
POINT TO PROVE
The Red Devils entered Wednesday’s matchup in second place in the SWC searching for their first championship. Stratford had its eight-game win streak snapped by the Nighthawks.
“I want us to stay focused, work harder and try to learn from what we did tonight,” Buccieri said. “The mistakes we made and what we saw Newtown did, and try to turn it around.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kim Buttery, Newtown: The junior setter was masterful distributing the ball to her teammates, recording 48 assists.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries,” Beals said. “It’s been tough but we’ve had a lot of the younger girls step up, which I am really impressed with.”
NEWTOWN 3, STRATFORD 1
STRATFORD25 16 19 22—1
NEWTOWN2 25 25 25—3
Records: Stratford 10-2, 8-2 SWC; Newtown 9-5, 7-2. Highlights: S—Sam Carbone 10 points, two blocks and three digs. Julia Torreso six digs and five kills. Gillian Mariconda five assists and three kills. N—Sarah Dowling 14 kills and one block. Zoe Beals 13 kills, seven digs and one block. Kim Buttery 48 assists, four kills and seven digs.