After falling in the 2014 Naugatuck Valley League final a year ago, Woodland bounced back, fought its way back into the title match and came out victorious with a 3-2 (15-25, 25-20, 25-20, 20-25, 15-8) triumph over Oxford at Kennedy High School on Thursday.
“I’m beyond proud,” said Woodland’s Cameron Caswell, who was named tournament MVP. “There’s no words for this. It seems surreal.”
This is the Hawks first conference crown since 2013. Woodland also won in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Coach Jim Amato said the Hawks are pretty tough in odd numbered years.
“We’re hoping to break it up, win in an even year, try something new,” he said, jokingly.
For Oxford, this season served to put the NVL on notice that the Wolverines belong, as they defeated defending champion Seymour in the semifinals. Last season was Oxford’s first in the conference after leaving the South-West Conference.
“We really turned things around in our last game,” said Oxford coach Jeff Giovacchino. “We were playing well with each other and everybody was contributing, it wasn’t just one person.”
Oxford stayed in rhythm as Zoe Olbrys had 27 assists and 22 digs and Jessica Zajkowski had 41 digs.
Despite the Wolverines’ best efforts, Woodland still rallied after a sluggish start. The Wolverines took game one as Woodland struggled to prevent Oxford from killing the ball and committed too many mistakes, according to Amato.
“Hitting errors,” the coach said. “Fifteen of them.”
Woodland cleaned things up and led for all of game two and most of game three, as Oxford would tie the game twice. However, Samantha White (12 digs and 11 kills) and Maddie Hupprich (16 assists) had big kills down the stretch to help close out the victory and secure a slim 2-1 lead.
Oxford would not go quietly. It battled through nine ties in game four and finally managed to pick up another win to tie things up and force a winner-take-all game five. To Amato, there were far too many service errors.
“In set five I said, ‘stop doing that,’” he said. “And they did.”
And as Woodland got it together, thanks to Caswell (23 digs and seven service aces) and Carla Piccolo (18 digs), Oxford unraveled.
Balls hit towards the ceiling fell to the ground with Wolverines watching, return shots went into the net and on one occasion two Wolverines attempted to hit a ball that ended up landing in front of them.
“I think it took everything we had to win game four and get to a game five,” Giovacchino said. “So I think we just had a letdown after that.”
Either way, Woodland will take it.
“When they lose their confidence you’ve got to go at them,” Caswell said. “When you see someone down on themselves, you’ve just got to keep hitting at them and hitting at them until they absolutely break down. It all works out in the end.”
2015 NVL Championship
Woodland 3, Oxford 2
Game scores: 15-25, 25-20, 25-20, 20-25, 15-8
Notes: W-Cameron Caswell won the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.