EAST HAVEN — Prior to Saturday afternoon, Joel Barlow’s record in girls volleyball state championship games stood at 0-6.
And about an hour into the 2018 Class L final against Woodstock Academy, it looked like Barlow would be on its way to loss No. 7.
Instead an epic comeback unfolded, meaning the Falcons can finally call themselves state volleyball champions. Barlow lost the first two games — and later trailed by four points in the fifth — but rallied to complete a 3-2 victory (21-25, 20-25, 25-13, 25-19, 16-14) over Woodstock Academy at East Haven High.
“There’s always a part of you that believes your team can do it,” said Falcons senior Kiara Robichaud, who earned tournament MVP honors. “We really dug deep.”
The Class L final pitted the undefeated and No. 1-seeded Centaurs, winners of the ECC, against the No. 2 Falcons, winners of the SWC. The teams came into the final with a combined 48-1 record. On top of that, the schools lost a mere 15 games between them.
Both schools were also seeking their first girls volleyball championship, which created an electric atmosphere inside the gym, with spectators standing for the majority of the final game.
“It makes it even sweeter when you think you might not come out on top,” Robichaud said. “To get that, and get that confirmation that we’re that good a team feels amazing.”
Robichaud finished with 26 kills and 10 digs. Fellow senior Julia Mullin added 15 kills and seven digs.
Woodstock (24-1), which lost the 2017 final to RHAM, took the first set and rallied in the second to go up 2-0.
— Mike C (@mikecfree) November 17, 2018
“The feeling was, well, they can take it in three or we’ve got to fight,” Barlow coach Carol Asplund said. “We have to show them what we’re made of. We’re representing everything the seniors have worked for four years. You’re representing your school, you’re representing everyone. Go out there and fight. Show them we have some fight.”
Facing a must-win situation in the third game, Barlow (25-1) did just what Asplund wanted and won it in convincing fashion 25-13. The momentum carried into the fourth game.
Woodstock coach Adam Bottone said he noticed his team’s mentality change in the third game.
“They lost their looseness in the third set for sure,” he said. “They were letting things bother them where they never would before. They were getting frustrated. It just kind of went downhill from there.”
The Centaurs appeared to have righted their ship in the fifth game, building up a 9-5 lead thanks to standout junior Paula Hernandez Aulet. Barlow rattled off six consecutive points to flip the final on its head.
“We all believed in each other,” Robichaud said. “That’s what we said in every huddle and that’s what got us through the last game.”
The Falcons finished it off when the Centaurs were unable to return a serve taken by Kayleigh Emanuelson, setting off a celebration around the net.
“I told them to believe in themselves and that they have nothing to lose,” Asplund said. “We came in here the underdogs with nothing to lose. We just needed to start playing the way we were capable of playing.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kiara Robichaud, Barlow. The senior earned tournament MVP honors, finishing with 26 kills and 10 digs.
Barlow players pointed to a 3-2 loss to Newtown in the final game of the regular season as something that helped them rally from down 0-2 to Woodstock. Although they lost to the Nighthawks, the Falcons came back from down 0-2 to force a fifth game. It also helped them stay focused, rather than buying into their own hype. “Carol (Asplund) said it was the best thing that could have happened to us all season and I couldn’t agree more with that. It made us less cocky because I think we went into that game with a big mindset,” Barlow senior Julia Mullin said.
“I said to them in practice, if we lose this one it’s because we didn’t come to play, and that was the case. Barlow’s a really good team. They do things really well. They serve well. They don’t make a ton of mistakes. They took us out of game. Kudos to them for doing that.” — Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone on his team losing the Class L final for the Centaurs’ only defeat this season.
BARLOW 3, WOODSTOCK 2
JOEL BARLOW 21 20 25 25 16—3
WOODSTOCK 25 25 13 19 14—2
Records: Woodstock Academy 24-1; Barlow 25-1. Highlights: JB—Emily Grob had 11 service points. Kayleigh Emanuelson had six aces. Scotland Davis had six digs. WA—Paula Hernandez Aulet had 32 kills, 22 digs and two aces; Samantha Orlowski had 32 assists. Natalie Low had 13 kills.