REDDING — For anyone hoping to whet their appetite for exciting girls volleyball in the days leading up to the South-West Conference playoffs, Joel Barlow High School was the place to be Wednesday night.
With the playoffs set to begin in less than a week, the SWC’s top two teams served it up in a thrilling non-conference clash as six-time defending champion Barlow hosted Newtown in a rematch of the last two conference finals.
This time, the night belonged to the Nighthawks, who scored a 3-2 victory and dealt Barlow its first loss of the season. The SWC playoffs are set to begin Monday with the quarterfinals, and this was one heck of an appetizer.
“It’s always a battle with Barlow,” Newtown coach Tom Czaplinski said. “No matter who wins the first couple sets, it’s almost always going to five. It was a great win for us as we get ready for the conference and state tournaments.”
The match had no bearing on the upcoming SWC playoffs — Barlow ran unbeaten through its conference schedule and was already locked in as the top seed, while Newtown, whose only conference loss was against Barlow in five sets on Sept. 28, was set as the No. 2 seed — but it had a playoff flavor all the same.
“Our mentality is always to beat the strongest team or to be the strongest team,” Newtown senior Kim Buttery said. “In the last set, we proved that we really wanted it by working those long rallies, putting balls down and doing whatever we could.”
Chalk it up as yet another epic battle between two powerhouse programs that have met in the conference final five times since 2007 and combined to win 10 of the last 11 championships.
“They’re a good team, and tonight they were a better team,” Barlow coach Carol Asplund said. “We’re not really happy with the way we played tonight. We have a lot to work on, and we know that.”
Barlow (18-1) opened a 15-5 lead in the first set and cruised to a 25-16 win to take a 1-0 lead in the match. Kills by Julia Mullin accounted for the final two Barlow points. Mullin tallied 12 kills and 13 digs for Barlow, while Kiara Robichaud recorded 31 kills, Scotland Davis added 13 digs, Arden Westphalen tallied four blocks and Riley Paradise had six kills, 15 service points and two aces.
In the second set, Newtown (15-3) overcame an 8-3 deficit to win 25-18. Buttery served up seven consecutive winners, including three aces, as the Nighthawks stretched a 14-13 lead to 21-13. Buttery added five kills and 39 assists, while Mollie Goudy had four aces and 16 digs, Natalie Horn collected nine kills and nine digs, Veronica Kroha added nine kills and two blocks, Hannah Groonell had 12 digs, Jackie Moccio had 11 digs and Erin Mitchell had eight kills, three aces and two blocks.
Newtown raced out to a 7-0 lead in the third set with Mollie Goudy at the service line and coasted to a 25-15 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the match. It was only the second time all season that Barlow had lost more than one set in a match, the other one coming in the Falcons’ aforementioned 3-2 triumph over Newtown.
The fourth set was tied 10 different times before Barlow pulled out a 30-28 win to tie the match 2-2. Newtown trailed most of the set before rallying to take a 24-20 lead. Robichaud tallied four kills down the stretch to fuel the Falcons’ rally.
The final set was tied five different times before Newtown took the lead for good. Mitchell fired a serve that wasn’t returned to put the Nighthawks ahead 6-5. A block by Kroha made it 7-5, and back-to-back kills by Kroha helped extend the Nighthawks’ lead to 12-7 on their way to a decisive 15-11 win.
Newtown 3, Joel Barlow 2
Newtown (15-3) — Kim Buttery 5 kills, 39 assists, 4 digs, 3 aces; Mollie Goudy 16 digs, 4 aces; Veronica Kroha 9 kills; Natalie Horn 9 kills, 9 digs, 2 aces; Erin Mitchell 8 kills, 3 aces; Jackie Moccio 11 digs; Hannah Groonell 4 kills, 12 digs
Joel Barlow (18-1) — Kiara Robichaud 31 kills; Julia Mullin 12 kills, 13 digs; Scotland Davis 13 digs; Riley Paradise 6 kills, 2 aces