FAIRFIELD — Though Greenwich graduated a number of players from last season’s squad, which captured the Class LL girls volleyball championship, a group of athletes on this year’s team experienced the thrill of one of the program’s greatest victories in 2017 and they’re hoping to relive that moment.
After two rounds of action in the state tournament, only eight teams remain, one of which is defending champion Greenwich.
Determined not to go to a nerve-wracking fifth game, 11th-seeded Greenwich came back to beat sixth-seeded Fairfield Ludlowe in the fourth game and advanced to the CIAC Class LL Tournament quarterfinals with a 3-1 road win in the Round of 16 on Thursday. The Cardinals visit third-seeded Westhill in Saturday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal-round. The Vikings eliminated 19th-seeded Hamden, 3-0, on Thursday.
Senior Amelia Bartlett registered eight service points, three kills and three aces for the Cardinals, who won the match by set scores of 25-20, 14-25, 25-17, 28-26.
“Winning the state championship last season is a huge motivator for our team,” Bartlett said. “We want to experience that again and winning that last game proves we can come back and win every game.”
Sophomore Lilly Saleeby recorded 17 kills and eight service points, while freshman Adele Sotgiu tallied 11 kills and 14 service points for the Cardinals (14-6).
“Having last year’s experience of winning the state title is great, because we know what we need to do to get back to the state final this year,” Saleeby said. “This was our third time playing them (Ludlowe) they won at GHS and we won here, so it’s nice to see us progress over the course of the season.”
Ludlowe, which was one point away from forcing a fifth set, received 28 assists, five digs, eight service points and two aces from senior setter Lily Traum and 16 kills and five service points from junior outside hitter Jo Blanco.
“We have been working so hard as a team and have improved so much during the season,” said junior middle blocker Amy Lumaj, who also produced a strong performance for the Falcons. “It’s tough to see it end like this, but we should be proud of how we did this season.”
Behind the solid serving of senior Jess Takami, the Falcons took a 24-19 lead in the fourth game. But Greenwich stormed back. Sotgiu’s well-placed serves and Saleeby’s kills helped the Cardinals even the score at 24-24. With the score knotted at 26-26, the Cards won the ensuing point, then Saleeby sealed the match with a kill.
“It was great, everything was there on that final point, the set, the pass,” Saleeby said. “It felt so satisfying to get that final swing on the ball.”
Said GHS coach Steve Lapham: “That was one of the best matches we played all season. Coming back from 24-19 like that in the fourth game was very impressive.”
Saleeby’s kill capped the opening game for Greenwich, then Ludlowe gained the momentum in the second game. An ace by Molly Reynolds gave the Falcons a 25-14 win in the second game, tying the match at 1-1. The second game also saw junior Jackie Soderlund tally and Traum tally several kills for Ludlowe, which effectively ran their offense.
Greenwich went ahead, 2-1, behind effective serving from Alina Fingold, who brought the score to 24-17. Sotgiu rose up and put down a kill for a 25-17 GHS win in the third set. The Cardinals seized a 15-7 lead in the third set, behind a kill from senior Erin O’Keefe, a Fingold ace and a kill from Saleeby.
“The postseason is so exciting, we obviously, wanted to win and advance, but Greenwich put up a great fight,” Traum said. “Our serves and hits were strong, there was constant energy from our team. Being one of the captains of this team was incredible.”
Added Soderlund, who helped lead the Falcons at the net: “We played well as a team, we just had to keep our energy up. This wasn’t the first time we lost in a fifth set, so we need to work on that for next season.”
Senior libero Carolina Lew notched six service points and two aces, while providing stellar passing and defensive play for the Cardinals. Fingold tallied 10 service points and Cornelia Roach had several key blocks for GHS, which also received key contributions from seniors Gia Alfano and O’Keefe.
“I am so proud of our team, we fought really hard for every point,” Lew said. “All the training we put in was for matches like this. We’ve learned from the past how to handle adverse situations.”
Added O’Keefe: “We have been constantly working every day and it has paid off, it feels amazing to advance to the next round. Knowing we have the potential to make it as far as we did last year is motivating to the team.”
Takami had 19 digs and six service points, including two aces for Ludlowe, which finished its season with a record of 17-6.
“We made some unforced errors and that’s the result,” Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. “We were a little inconsistent tonight, but I’m still super proud of our team. Our five seniors were very impactful in stepping up and being strong leaders of our team. We improved and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Following an early exit in the FCIAC Tournament (it was eliminated by Darien in the quarterfinal-round) Greenwich is one win away from reaching the state semifinals.
“We all had such positive energy and we executed our plays really well today,” Bartlett said. “We were fighting so hard for every point and everyone was cheering each other on, which gave such a boost to our team.”
GREENWICH 3, LUDLOWE 1
GREENWICH 25 14 25 28
LUDLOWE 20 25 17 26