STRATFORD — Though it lost the first set to Southington in the Class LL Tournament semifinals, the Greenwich High School girls volleyball team finished the opening set strong and gained a wave of momentum.
And they never let it go.
Receiving a boost of confidence and momentum after falling behind by 15 points in the first set, sixth-seeded Greenwich controlled the action thereafter, recording a decisive 3-1 win over second-seeded Southington in the Class LL semifinals at Bunnell High School.
With their 19th consecutive victory, the soaring Cardinals (23-4) advanced to Saturday’s Class LL Tournament finals, where they will play fifth-seeded Amity at East Haven High School at a time yet to determined.
Should Greenwich emerge victorious on Saturday, it will become the first team in the volleyball program’s history to win both the FCIAC and state title during the same season.
“It’s remarkable, we’ve come so far this season,” GHS senior setter/tri-captain Nicole Wood said. “We did not start out the season strong, but we continued to trust in each other and support one another. We have improved so much as the season has gone on and now we’re going to the state finals.”
The Cardinals won Wednesday’s match by game scores of 14-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-14.
“It feels great to be going to the finals, going into this match we didn’t know what to expect, because we had never played Southington before,” Cardinals senior tri-captain Maggy Egan said. “We played very well after the first set and rose to the occasion. After winning FCIACs and having that feeling, we want to win states so bad too.”
Egan registered a team-high 15 kills, senior tri-captain Tara Ford tallied 11 kills and senior Erika Hauschild added 10 kills for Greenwich, which has not lost a match in nearly two months. Junior Amelia Bartlett and freshman Lillian Saleeby posted three kills apiece, while Hauschild notched three aces.
“I’m impressed with how we responded after we made mistakes and things didn’t go our way,” said Cardinals coach Steve Lapham, who guided GHS to the state title in 2013. “Our players did a great job of picking each other up and inspiring each other. The tied was rolling with us after the first game.”
Senior libero Adnerys De Jesus recorded a team-best 18 digs, Hauschild had 10 digs and Wood ran the offense efficiently, setting up 20 assists. Ford added three blocks in the winning effort.
SOUTHINGTON STARTS STRONG
The Blue Knights put the Cardinals in a 20-5 hole in the first set, as they passed well and exhibited solid serving.
“The first set we played really well, but we gave some points back toward the end of the first set,” Southington coach Rich Heitz said. “You always want to grab the momentum after you are trailing, that’s what we tell our team and that’s what Greenwich did. They got the momentum and we just never grabbed it back.”
Senior Sarah Myrick had 11 kills, while senior Stephanie Zera tallied 38 assists for the Blue Knights. Erica Bruno had nine kills.
Receiving a lift from Hauschild in the serving department and Ford at the net, the Cardinals closed the first set in impressive fashion, despite losing 25-14.
“We were just focusing on the next play and getting a side out,” Ford said. “Toward the end of the first set we got some confidence and we were focused on keeping each other up in the huddle. We are definitely impressed with Southington, they were consistent and they were great at keeping the ball in play.”
EVENING THE SCORE
With the score knotted at 16-16 in the second set, Ford gave GHS the lead for good with a block. After Greenwich won the next point, she added a kill, making it 19-16. Wood registered a kill, later on, putting the Cardinals ahead, 24-19.
“We started out very slow, so it was important for us to pick each other up,” Wood said.
An ace by Wood gave the Cards a 9-3 lead in the third game. A kill later in the set by Bartlett made it 13-8. Ford and Bartlett stopped the Blue Knights’ momentum with kills during the set and Egan also put down several kills.
“We stayed aggressive and didn’t change our game plan after the first set,” Lapham said. “Maggy and Nicole really helped lead the way for us — it was a real battle out there. Southington played great, they were getting to everything in that first set. But we showed a lot by battling back.”
SEALING THE DEAL
The Cards built a 13-5 lead and never looked back in the final set.
“Our communication was a little bit weak in the first game, but it was a lot better after that,” Bartlett said. “We are so happy and excited to win this match and move on to the finals.”
Said De Jesus: “We had to get ourselves together after they won the first game and we improved our communication. We played well defensively and came out with an emotional win.”
GREENWICH 3, SOUTHINGTON 1
GREENWICH 14 25 25 25—3
SOUTHINGTON 25 19 21 14—1
Records: Greenwich 23-4 overall; Southington 18-3 overall. Note: No. 6 Greenwich meets No. 5 Amity Saturday at East Haven HS at a time TBD for the LL championship. Amity beat No. 1 Cheshire, 3-0 in Wednesday’s other LL semifinal.