NORWALK — McMahon volleyball coach Pete Georgiou has seen his team rise to the occasion against some of the best teams in the league this season.
He’s also seen his young squad falter in games it likely should have won.
When archrival Norwalk High crossed the Norwalk River on Wednesday for the annual showdown with his Senators, Georgiou didn’t know what to expect.
What he got was a team that pulled out a tightly contested first game and proceeded to roll to a 3-0 sweep of the Bears at Kehoe-King Gymnasium.
“We’ve been very up and down this year,” Georgiou said. “It’s not so much that we don’t have talent, but we don’t have the mental toughness to make it through a set.”
In a back-and-forth first set, the Senators finally pulled out a 25-19 advantage before finishing off the match 25-15, 25-13.
“That was big,” said game MVP Claire Ripperger. “Not only did it give us a lot of momentum, but it gave some of our younger players a lot of confidence.”
Ripperger, a senior captain, had 10 service points, five kills, five blocks, three digs and an ace for McMahon while sophomore Lila Young had 10 kills, eight service points and five digs.
It was Young’s kill that capped off the first set for the Senators, who turned a tight 14-13 match into a win.
“I told the kids this is an inter-city game and you can throw the records out the window,” Georgiou said. “We’re playing for pride and with emotion and we did a good job controlling our emotion tonight.”
Stephanie Skidmore, a junior captain, helped give McMahon some breathing room in that first set, going back-to-back with blocks that gave McMahon leads of 20-16 and 21-16.
She then laced down a kill that made it 22-16 and put the McMahon on the cusp of taking a 1-0 lead.
“Skid did a lot at the net for us tonight,” Georgiou said.
Once McMahon won the first set, Norwalk looked to battle back but the Senators had the momentum and wherewithal to finish things out.
With the win, McMahon retained the Mary Kehoe-Meri Griffiths Trophy that goes to the winner.
Both teams are now 5-11 on the season.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Ripperger did what a captain is expected to, finding stats in each and every category en route to the win.
“Ripp had an MVP performance,” Georgiou said. “The big thing about her is she had those five kills, but she didn’t have any hitting errors or blocking errors tonight, which is huge. Most kids will get a lot of kills, but they make errors. She didn’t cause us to lose any points tonight.”
Ripperger was surprised at those numbers, but wasn’t surprised at the way her teammates responded.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” she said. “I don’t know if it was the best game I’ve ever played, but it was the most fun. Everybody’s energy was up and everybody was exciting.”
PLAY OF THE GAME
In the third set, McMahon’s Michelle Perea, the Senators’ other senior captain, served up a spectacular assist, setting up Young from deep in the back row for a kill at the net.
“Michelle wasn’t going to let a ball drop back there,” Georgiou said. “She must have set that from 27 feet away.”
Perea finished the game with 18 digs, three aces, two kills and one spectacular assist.
In addition to a win over their archrival, the win also kept McMahon’s state tournament hopes.
Georgiou said the Senators have to win three out of their final four games to qualify.
One game is against St. Joseph, but Wilton, Central and Fairfield Warde are also on the docket.
“All could go either way,” Georgiou said of the latter trio of matchups. “I could see us beating all three teams, but I can see them beating us, as well.”
Norwalk remains at five wins with a much tougher finishing kick.
For the Bears, Bailey Renwick had six kills and a dig while Brinn Renwick had 13 digs and five aces. Libero Gabby Costello added 10 digs.
McMAHON 3, NORWALK 0
NORWALK 19 15 13
McMAHON 25 25 25
Records: Norwalk 5-11, McMahon 5-11; Top performers: N—Bailey Renwick (6 kills), Brinn Renwick (13 digs, 5 aces), Gabby Costello (10 digs); M—Claire Ripperger (10 service points, five kills, five blocks, three dig, Lila Young (10 kills, 8 service points, 5 digs); Michelle Perea (18 digs)