WINSTED >> Wolcott Tech’s girls volleyball team (8-1) was undefeated in eight games in the Constitution State Conference. Thursday, the Wildcats returned to their Berkshire League roots for a match at The Gilbert School (1-10), winless in 10 tries.
The Yellowjackets found their game, in three straight wins, 25-21; 25-23; and 25-21. The Wildcats got rid of what might have become an albatross.
“We carried too much pressure into this game,” said Coach Ray Tanguay. “The pressure of being 8-0 weighed on them.”
Did the prospect of facing a winless team have anything to do with it?
“Nobody ever takes (Gilbert coach) Cindy Fixer for granted,” said Tanguay. “She’s run a great program for years.”
“2003 (a 15-3 record on the way to the Class S semifinals) is a long time ago,” said Fixer, who’s trying to instill the right attitudes in an inexperienced team.
“We have a hard time believing in ourselves,” Fixer said. “They need to feel that confidence. How do you teach someone to believe in herself?”
The first step came two weeks ago when senior captain Niki Nash returned from an ACL tear that kept her out for Gilbert’s first six games.
By Thursday, Nash played her way back into control of the team.
“She displayed her leadership tonight by constantly talking and keeping the girls focused,” said Fixer.
“We stuck with it,” said Nash, in her own best game along with the team’s. “We stuck with it. Normally, we get down on ourselves.”
The match was a study in visible attitudes for both teams.
Nash (9 kills, 5 aces, 12 digs) served the first five points for Gilbert with the help of two other Yellowjacket seniors – Kaylah Leonard on a tap-back and co-captain Amanda Root, willing her shot to crawl over the net for another point.
Wolcott Tech charged back to a 10-6 lead behind service aces from Kimmie Stack and Nicole Higgins, a tap-down by Cassie Dablain and three Gilbert errors.
It was the Yellowjackets’ first chance to get down on themselves.
Instead, Nash was front and center for a Yellowjacket surge. Her kill brought Gilbert back to 11-8. She hit an empty spot for 12-10 and a tap for 12-12. Then she stepped to the service line for three straight aces and a 16-13 Yellowjacket lead.
The confidence flow visibly shifted.
Gilbert got to 23-16 with sophomore Isabelle Rein’s second ace in a seven-point service run.
The Wildcats made a nice run – a tap and two aces by Stack – but couldn’t close the gap before Gilbert’s Leonard closed the door with a final point.
Tech started game two on a mission.
Sophomore Casey Rein started with two aces in a four-point run.
Gilbert’s Root stopped it with a kill. Then Nash was back on the service line for two aces, 4-3.
This time, the struggle went all the way to 18-18.
Tech seized control with a Stack kill, a tap by Emily Andrews and an ace by Meaghan Jones (5 kills, 3 digs). The lead reached 23-19.
Fixer called a time out, just two points from a Wildcat win.
Two Tech errors got it close. Nash served the last five points of the game – a Root kill, then two more Tech errors for the Yellowjacket lead, 24-23. Nash finished it with an ace.
Gilbert’s confidence bowl was full. The Wildcats were drained.
Nash began Game three with eight straight points, including two aces. The Yellowjackets led from start to finish.
Freshman Ali Brochu (4 kills, 8 assists, 6 digs) had two kills in the final stretch.
Wolcott Tech got within five, 18-13, on a kill by Jones, within three, 24-21, on a kill by Jasmine Ma.
But this game, Gilbert and Niki Nash were in charge. A final kill by Nash put the match in the books.
“The win is great. It’s much more important that they kept together and held their intensity,” said Coach Fixer.
“If we can keep playing like this, it could change everything,” said Nash.
“It may change things,” said Coach Fixer. “There are still things we need to improve on.”
The true test comes next Thursday. Gilbert goes to Wolcott Tech for a rematch.
Gilbert 3, Wolcott Tech 0
(25-21; 25-23; 25-21)
Highlights: WT-Casey Farrington 15 assists, 11 digs, 5 aces; Meaghan Jones 5 kills, 3 digs. G-Niki Nash 9 kills, 5 aces,12 digs; Ali Brochu 4 kills, 8 assists, 6 digs; Amanda Root 4 kills, 2 digs.
Records: Wolcott Tech 8-1; Gilbert 1-10.