WEST HAVEN >> Hall coach Jim Holt had one thing in mind when he took over the team over a year ago. Holt was determined to get his team back to the state tournament, a place the Warriors had not been since 2008.
Holt and his 18th-seeded Warriors were not content on getting to the postseason. Using a 7-0 run to win the first game, the Warriors upset 15th-seeded West Haven 3-0 (26-24, 27-25, 25-22) in the opening round of the Class LL state tournament at West Haven High Monday evening.
With the victory, the Warriors advance to the second round, where they will play at second-seeded Darien, Thursday at 6 p.m.
“It has been since 2008 since we have been in the state tournament,” Holt said after his team improved to 11-10. “We just made some changes. It has been a long time since we won a first round game.”
Hall looked as if it would fight an uphill battle after wasting a 13-8 lead in the opening game. West Haven was on top 24-19 after a Hall error, but the Warriors got the serve back and they never looked back.
With senior Michelle Brook on the service line, Hall scored six straight points, taking advantage of two West Haven errors, a kill by Morgan Shearin and an ace by Brook to get within 25-24. Brook served out the final two points and Hall rode that emotion the rest of the match.
“That definitely turned the match around,” Holt said. “She (Brook) has been serving well all year. She did a nice job and we were able to come back.”
The loss in the opening game set the tone for the Westies and would prove to define this match for West Haven. Needing one point to close out the opening game, West Haven failed on seven straight opportunities to clinch the opener.
“I think it may have rattled us a little bit,” West Haven coach Kate Coldren said after her team finished the year 12-10. “We didn’t give them any points. They fought for every single point.”
Hall’s comeback would be repeated in the final two games. After taking a 10-3 lead on a pair of aces by Carolina Murillo-Alegria, Hall watched as West Haven inched closer on an ace by Danielle Bertolini and a kill by Taylor Lambert.
The combination of Elena Pevar and Shearin proved to be too tall and too tough for West Haven as the duo helped Hall to a 24-20 lead with a block by Shearin and kills by Pevar.
The Westies nearly returned, doing what Hall did in the first game, as the Westies went on a 4-0 run on a pair of kills by Talon Yahaya to even the game at 24.
With Hall up 25-24, West Haven again tied the game, but two West Haven errors, including a net serve, allowed the Warriors to escape with a 27-25 victory in the middle game.
“We definitely had a couple of mental mistakes tonight,” Coldren said. “Honestly, we only had six or seven service errors tonight. That is not bad. It was just bad timing.”
The third game was much of the same for both teams. Hall jumped out to an early lead, West Haven rallied to take a 21-20 lead, and Hall closed the game out strong on a 5-1 run.
The Warriors used a pair of aces by Kim Yen Kha to take a 7-3 lead, but a pair of aces by West Haven’s Kayley Carr got West Haven within 9-6.
Each time the Westies got even, Hall had an answer in the final game. A kill by West Haven’s Alissa Tonucci to even the game at 10 was met by a kill by Hall’s Shearin.
The Warriors increased the margin to 18-12 on a kill by Pevar, but three straight kills by Yahaya evened the game at 20. Hall took control once and for all in the final game as kills by Nina Mirontchik and Shearin sandwiched an ace by Brook to get Hall within two points of advancing to the second round.
Shearin made sure the Warriors traveled further down I-95 when she closed the match with two straight blocks to send the Warriors to the second round.
“We have played really good defense all year,” Holt said. “We picked our defense up. We needed our defense to step up tonight and it did.”
Pevar and Shearin each had nine kills for Hall, with Pevar adding nine service points. West Haven was led by Bertolini with 25 digs and 5 kills. Carr added 14 digs and 6 kills, and Yahaya finished with 11 kills.