WESTON — For the past six years, Joel Barlow proved it was the best girls volleyball program in the South-West Conference and the Falcons continued their dominance this season.
Thanks to an MVP performance from senior outside hitter Kiara Robichaud, Barlow captured its seventh consecutive SWC crown and put a cap on another stellar league campaign following a 3-1 victory over Newtown on Saturday night at Weston High.
Top-seeded Barlow (21-1) went to five sets on two occasions against the second-seeded Nighthawks in gaining a split during the regular season, but the Falcons took a 2-0 lead in the match and never looked back.
“They played great and they executed the game plan almost perfectly,” Barlow’s sixth-year head coach Carol Conti-Asplund said of her players. “For that I commend them. We completely changed everything the last two weeks. They believed in it and they believe in their coaches and they came out and showed it.”
The adjustments, including being patient and waiting for kills, worked and the defense stifled No. 2 Newtown (17-5) to the tune of 78 total digs while the Falcons served at 95 percent.
“It’s a defense that we have in our back pocket and we practice it every day,” Conti-Asplund said. “We don’t use it very often, we’re usually a perimeter team defense but we decided to use it against Masuk and Newtown (in the playoffs) and it worked.”
Barlow was clicking on all cylinders, and even though the Nighthawks kept things close in the first and second sets, the Falcons had enough to pull away usually behind the strength of Robichaud, who finished with 31 kills, and Julia Mullin (13 kills).
The combination of Robichaud and standout junior setter Kayleigh Emanuelson (37 assists) was on point the entire evening.
“It all was my team’s passing,” said Robichaud, who would like to play volleyball in college. “My setter’s setting that enabled me to get the kills. Without my teammates, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did.”
Even though the Falcons had the momentum with a 2-0 lead, the Nighthawks bounced back in the third set with a 25-21 win.
Unfortunately for the Nighthawks, Barlow came out strong in the fourth. The Falcons took a 20-9 edge, on the strength of the serving of Robichaud, Emanuelson and Riley Paradise.
“It’s always fun to play Barlow but unfortunately it didn’t work out in our favor,” Newtown head coach Tom Czaplinski said. “They have a strong team with a great group of players. We couldn’t find an answer for them I know that.”
Conti-Asplund credited the players for the streak of success in the SWC for her program.
“It’s a lot of hard work on the girls,” she said. “It’s a culture and it was built before I was head coach with Steve Antal.”
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Kiara Robichaud, Joel Barlow
The senior outside hitter was named the SWC Tournament MVP and had 31 kills, 18 digs and a block.
Kayleigh Emanuelson, Joel Barlow
The junior setter racked up 37 assists, eight digs and three aces.
The Falcons had three players make the SWC All-Tournament team including Robichaud, Emanuelson and Julia Mullin. The Nighthawks were represented by Kim Buttery and Genevieve Murray and rounding out the team were Masuk’s Ana Castro-Rodriguez and Brookfield’s Josie Luizzi.
“Losing that third set gave us the motivation we needed to take it home in that fourth and final set,” Robichaud said.
“She (Robichaud) is a special kid and she never lets the pressure get to her,” Conti-Asplund said of her standout senior outside hitter.
“(Newtown) played amazing and they’re an amazing team,” Emanuelson said. “We came to play tonight and we knew what we had to do. We just had to execute.”
“I love this team and I really wanted them to pull out a victory because of how great of a team I think they are but it just wasn’t there for us tonight,” Czaplinski said.
BARLOW 3, NEWTOWN 1
NEWTOWN 21 20 25 13—1
BARLOW 25 25 21 25—3
Records: Joel Barlow 21-1, Newtown 17-5.