BROOKFIELD — This year’s seniors on the Stratford High School girls volleyball team have seen a tremendous amount of growth and improvement in their program in the last four years — and the best may be yet to come.
The Red Devils defeated Brookfield 3-1 Monday night in a clash of emerging contenders in the SWC. After a breakout season last year, which included a trip to the Class L state quarterfinals as the No. 3 seed, Stratford (7-1, 4-1 SWC) appears ready to jump right back into the title hunt again this year with a senior-laden, playoff-tested squad.
These last few seasons have marked an incredible turnaround for a program that has had some ups and downs — Stratford won only two matches in 2014 — and has taken its share of lumps over the years from the SWC’s perennial powers.
“We had always been on the bottom, for I can’t tell you how many years,” Stratford coach Lisa Buccieri said. “It feels good to finally come in and beat other teams, and stronger teams, not just the weaker ones. It’s definitely a good feeling as a coach, and I know they feel proud of themselves as well.”
Of course, with each win comes a little more confidence and a little more swagger.
“It feels really good,” senior captain Samm Carbone said. “It’s kind of the same group from last year, so the chemistry on the court just keeps growing. We’re all excited to play together, and with every win it just grows stronger.”
Brookfield won the first set Monday 27-25 in a set that was tied 12 different times, including 25-25. Back-to-back kills by Josie Luizzi secured the final two points for the Bobcats.
Brookfield’s lead was short-lived, however, as Stratford raced out to an 11-2 lead in the second set on its way to a 25-12 victory to tie the match 1-1. The third set was tied 10-10 before Stratford closed with a 15-3 run to win 25-13. A kill by Julia Torreso put Stratford ahead 16-12, and then Sami Perley served up seven consecutive winners for the Red Devils.
After falling behind early, Brookfield came back to take an 18-13 lead in the fourth set before Stratford began a rally of its own. The score was tied at 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23, as the Devils fought to close out the match and the Bobcats battled to prolong it.
With the score tied at 23, Torreso served up back-to-back winners, including an ace, to seal the victory.
“The game tonight was scrappy on both ends,” Brookfield coach Daylon Wilkins said. “I can’t say enough great things about Stratford. They played great. We did not. There are definitely things we know we need to work on, just little things here and there. Overall, I’m extremely happy and extremely proud of how the season is going.”
Brookfield (8-2, 3-2 SWC) is off to a hot start of its own this season, much like Stratford. And like Stratford, Brookfield has taken its share of lumps. The Bobcats have won only one state tournament game since they reached the Class M quarterfinals in 2013.
Neither team has won an SWC championship, although Brookfield won titles in the old Western Connecticut Conference in 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1993 and 1994. The Bobcats advanced to the title match in the first year of the SWC in 1995, but lost to Barlow. Stratford has never made it to an SWC final.
That, however, is ancient history. Both teams are certainly in the mix this year.
“That has a lot to do with the growth of volleyball in our state,” Wilkins said. “There are more and more girls playing club, playing in the offseason. We’re making sure we’re representing the game of volleyball that we love in the state of Connecticut the right way.”
STRATFORD 3, BROOKFIELD 1
STRATFORD 25 25 25 25 — 3
BROOKFIELD 27 12 13 23 — 1
STRATFORD (7-1, 4-1 SWC)
Samm Carbone 7 kills, 5 blocks, 3 digs; Jackie DeCrescenzo 1 kill, 10 assists, 18 digs, 2 aces; Julia Torreso 4 kills, 4 assists, 11 digs, 4 aces; Sami Perley 7 kills, 2 assists, 16 digs, 4 aces; Sa’Noma Smart 2 kills, 3 blocks
BROOKFIELD (8-2, 3-2 SWC)
Josie Luizzi 12 kills, 10 digs; Macie Carroll 8 kills; Fernanda Hanashiro 25 assists; Maansi Barnwhal 18 digs