STAMFORD — It was volleyball with surgical precision.
There were crosscourt kills from the left corner of the net. Crosscourt kills from the right corner. Kills up the sideline. Service aces with lefty spin. Aces with righty spin. And power hits off high-arcing sets.
And when the final whistle sounded Friday night, the Hopkins girls volleyball team had collected its first FAA regular season title.
The Hilltoppers swept King, 25-21, 25-23, 25-13 before a stunned audience in the Vikings’ gym.
“To beat a team like Hopkins, we needed to play the perfect volleyball game,” King coach Tung Tran said. “We needed to reduce our service and unforced errors. Hopkins played so great and so smart. Their shot placement was superb.”
The fact that Hopkins (14-1, 7-0 FAA) accomplished this feat in the King gym with the plethora of FAA Tournament and NEPSAC Championship girls volleyball banners staring the Hilltoppers in the face just made the victory more special.
“It’s insane. This is the first time we’ve beaten King volleyball in school history,” Hopkins top hitter Nataly Moravec said. “We’ve waited all season for this match. We all meshed together. I’m so proud of our team. We all played so well.”
Indeed. King (13-2, 8-2 FAA) never led by more than two points at any juncture of the three games. The Vikings were constantly fighting uphill and got mentally and physically worn down.
With senior setter Casey Goldberg (37 assists) running the offense, Hopkins attacked with a variety of hitters (Rachael Huang, Jess Hensel).
But the Hilltopper hitter who proved the most demoralizing for King was 6-foot-0 sophomore Moravec. Time and again, she would rise over the King blocking defense for a kill and a key point. She collected 21 kills in all.
Moravec spent last summer as one of the top 60 players at the USA Volleyball A1 training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Thousands across the country tryout to try to earn one of those coveted 60 spots.
“Last year, I was young and not consistent,” Moravec said. “The time at A1 camp improved my skills and made me a better team player.”
The King squad certainly agreed with that assessment.
“Moravec has gotten taller and stronger,” King coach Tran said. “She is able to elevate and hit from a high apex above the defense. She just dominates you at the net.”
Friday’s triumph also means Hopkins is the No. 1 seed for next week’s FAA Volleyball Tournament. The Hilltoppers and No. 2 seed Greenwich Academy receive first-round byes.
“Our teamwork is great. Our senior setter (Casey Goldberg) is so consistent on how she controls our offense,” Hopkins coach and former China Volleyball Olympian Dina Ding said. “Everyone has come together. We practice the way we want to play in matches.”
In Monday’s FAA Tournament action, No. 3 seed King will host No. 6 seed GFA (at 4:45 p.m.). No. 5 St. Luke’s travels to No. 4 Sacred Heart Greenwich.
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
Having fallen to the No. 3 seed, King must win three matches and probably have to beat both GA and Hopkins to capture the 2019 FAA Tournament crown.
It is the second straight year King is not FAA regular season volleyball champs.
The Vikings are also moving from Class C to Class B in the NEPSAC Tournament. They will face a tougher level of competition. They won’t be able to host a NEPSAC final as they had done in some previous years.
“Our battle this postseason will be mental,” Tran said. “At this time of year, you have to be self-motivated. Your engine should be warm and running. We have some new girls who don’t have postseason experience. I’ve said what I can. I’ve taught what I can. It’s up to the girls to apply it.”
HOPKINS 3, KING 0
HOPKINS 25 25 25—3
KING 21 23 13—0
Records: Hopkins 14-1, 7-0 FAA; King 13-2, 8-2 FAA.
Highlights: H—Nataly Moravec 21 kills. Casey Goldberg 37 assists.