WINSTED — Two quality girls volleyball teams pounded each other for five games at Northwestern High School Tuesday night in a 3-2 (25-14, 19-25, 25-27, 27-25, 15-10) Lewis Mills win over the Highlanders.
Both teams went through the same wringer last week in five-game losses to defending Berkshire League co-champion Nonnewaug (3-0), but Tuesday night, defending co-champion Mills’ seniors finally made the difference over an immensely talented young Highlander group.
“We’re used to the mental aspect of up-and-down emotions,” senior co-captain Anna Szymanski said. “Our loss to Nonnewaug (last Tuesday) made us want to work all the harder.”
“When we can stay calm, it helps our younger players,” said Lisa Johnston, another senior. “In the loss to Nonnewaug, we mentally checked out in the final game. We knew what we were walking into in this one. Northwestern always has a good team.”
The three teams are the cream of the league in the early going, with easy wins against two other BL opponents for the Spartans (3-1) and Highlanders (2-2).
Nevertheless, the first game Tuesday was a battle of unforced errors. Mills made the fewest in a 25-14 win.
“Both teams lost a lot of good players,” Johnston said. “We’re still learning to play together with our new teams.”
The Highlanders shook off their nerves in the second game, riding their young talent to a 25-19 win on a final kill by sophomore Ashlyn Zematis (7 kills, 8 digs, 1 ace).
“We played better under pressure tonight than we have all season,” Spartan coach Jon Hurlock said.
Tied at a game apiece, game three looked like a make-it-or-break-it point, battling through six ties before Northwestern’s senior co-captain Julia Ujarvi (13 kills, 10 digs, 1 ace) broke the Highlanders out of a 25-25 tie, then tucked the game away on an unforced Spartan error.
“Julia’s still learning to be our go-to girl,” Hurlock said.
Lesser teams might have folded their tents after losing such a monumental struggle. Not this game for Mills.
Down 2-1, the Spartans were back with their own go-to girls in a game four just as epic as game three. This time, junior Kylie Biggs rose up for the kill to break Mills out of a 25-25 tie. Jordyn Mashia, another junior, served an ace for the final point.
“I told my girls to have short-term memories on mistakes and come back and fight for every point,” said Mills coach Monica Reed before the final 15-point game.
Reed’s team responded with an out-of-the-gate lead for all but a 9-9 tie in its 15-10 win. After the tie, pressure finally wore on the Highlanders for four unforced errors, leaving the Mills seniors to finish it off with a deft shot by Anna Szymanski (9 kills, 6 aces 8 digs) and a final kill by Johnston.
“Last year showed us what we can do,” Johnston said.
“It makes us want to do it again,” Szymanski said.
Northwestern is sure to be in the chase.
“A couple of points here and there might have made the difference tonight,” Hurlock said.
LEWIS MILLS 3, NORTHWESTERN 2
LEWIS MILLS 25 19 25 27 15
NORTHWESTERN 14 25 27 25 10
Records: Lewis Mills 3-1; Northwestern 2-2. Highlights: LM — Anna Szymanski 9 kills, 6 aces, 8 digs; Katie Butwill 8 kills, 5 aces, 13 digs; Lara Bowers 3 kills, 1 ace, 3 digs, 30 assists. NW — Julia Ujarvi 13 kills, 10 digs, 1 ace; Ashlyn Zematis 7 kills, 8 digs, 1 ace; Caroline Crone 28 assists, 1 dig.