NEWTOWN — Nothing could stop the Woodstock Academy girls volleyball team on Monday, not even a bus ride all the way across the state for a match against a perennial contender.
Even after sitting on the bus for two solid hours, the undefeated Centaurs looked sharp from the outset and defeated Newtown 3-0 in a battle between two of the more competitive teams in Connecticut. Such a performance certainly must have made the two-hour return trip to the Quiet Corner a lot more tolerable. Woodstock won by scores of 25-19, 25-13 and 25-18.
“We’ve been having trouble lately at the beginning of games, so we came in with the mentality that, if we start strong, it would help us throughout the whole game,” said Woodstock Academy junior Paula Hernandez, who led the Centaurs with 20 thunderous kills. “We really wanted to make those two hours worth it.”
Hernandez moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico last year in the wake of Hurricane Maria and has been a huge asset for the Centaurs, who last season won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I title and made it to the Class L state championship game.
“She’s a tremendous player,” Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone said. “She sees the court really well and she’s very smart about what she does, and that’s helped make the rest of the team that much smarter.”
Hernandez is not a one-player show, however. Far from it. The Centaurs (5-0) are a solid and cohesive unit in which every player plays a vital role.
Natalie Low added 11 kills and 12 digs, Samantha Orlowski tallied 20 assists and Maddy Gronski chipped in with 20 digs.
“It’s an environment where everyone is so happy,” Hernandez said. “there is such good chemistry that we know everything else will work out. We’re like sisters.”
Whether in Newtown or Woodstock, this annual East vs. West showdown has become an important date on both teams’ schedules as they look to bolster their non-conference schedules.
“We enjoy coming out here,” Bottone said. “We’ve been playing Newtown since the Fall of 2011, so we’ve had a nice little rivalry going on. It’s always really good competition. Both sides played well tonight. We had some great rallies. They did a tremendous job of blocking Paula, which a lot of teams have struggled to do.”
Win or lose, the benefits of playing a tough schedule begin to pay off in the postseason.
“There are definitely a lot of things we can pick up from today,” Newtown coach Tom Czaplinski said. “They’re a phenomenal team, by far the best team we’ve seen this year. They have some phenomenal outside hitters, and their ball control was better than ours.”
Natalie Horn collected six kills and seven digs for the Nighthawks (2-2). Kim Buttery added 23 assists and five kills, and Mollie Goudy had 11 digs. Buttery, Veronica Kroha and Genevieve Murray each had two blocks and Erin Mitchell had one.
After Woodstock won the first set, the two teams traded points early in the second set, with neither really gaining much of an advantage. A kill by Hernandez put the Centaurs ahead to stay, 7-6. An ace by Emma Green extended the lead to 12-8, and an ace by Low made it 16-10. After winning the second set, Woodstock pulled ahead early in the third set and never looked back.
Woodstock Academy 3, Newtown 0
Woodstock Academy (5-0-0)
Paula Hernandez 20 kills; Natalie Low 11 kills, 12 digs; Samantha Orlowski 20 assists; Maddy Gronski 20 digs
Kim Buttery 5 kills, 2 blocks, 23 assists; Mollie Goudy 11 digs; Natalie Horn 6 kills, 7 digs