CHESHIRE — The reign of the Stamford High School girls volleyball program as Class LL state champions officially ended Thursday night.
But the Black Knights concluded their journey to repeat with their heads high and tears of pride in their eyes.
No. 16 seed Stamford High gave No. 1 seed Cheshire a battle to the finish before finally falling 17-25, 25-17, 26-24, 25-23 at the Rams’ gym in the Class LL second round.
“It was a tough season. We finished at 13-9 overall but we lost six times in Game 5,” said Stamford’s veteran coach Mike Smeriglio. “But this group never stopped fighting. They were so resilient. (Senior co-captain) Gloria Mattioli gave such a great effort despite playing through a back injury. We won eight of our last 11 matches. We’ve been playing very well. If we had gotten through tonight, who knows what might have happened?”
Unfortunately for Stamford, Cheshire High showed exactly why it is currently 22-0 and three steps away from its first Class LL title since 2013.
NO OBSTACLE COULD DENY CHESHIRE
The Rams entered the match missing one key hitter due to a previous commitment.
Cheshire then lost sophomore hitter and sensational softball pitcher Lindsey Abramson to a left knee injury after colliding with a volleyball net post. Abramson returned to congratulate her teammates following the win after making a trip to the doctor.
It is clear from her injury that her volleyball season has ended.
So Cheshire used a revolving door of its deep roster to piece together Thursday night’s victory. The Rams will host No. 8 seed Glastonbury in Saturday’s LL quarterfinals. Glastonbury swept Newtown, 3-0 Thursday.
“We started firing in Game 2,” said Cheshire coach Sue Bavone. “We have a group of kids who are mostly quiet-type personalities. We asked a lot of many players tonight. And they all did their jobs.”
NOT ABOUT REVENGE FOR CHESHIRE
In its 2016 run to the Class LL championship, Stamford as a No. 3 seed, swept No. 6 seed Cheshire in three games at home.
“The bus ride home last year was longer than the match,” Cheshire coach Bavone recalled.
But with just two returnees from 2016, the burning fire of revenge didn’t run through Cheshire’s 2017 roster that included six seniors and eight juniors.
Sophomores Ariana Perlini and Julia Bartlet made great impact Thursday along with lefty hitting junior Jenny Wang.
“Wang was so scrappy and made plays. And Julia (Bartlet) blocked (Stamford’s Andrea) O’Connor in Game 2 and that turned the tide,” Cheshire’s Bavone said.
STAMFORD’S O’CONNOR POSTS BRILLIANT ENDING
Cheshire won Thursday despite the efforts of Stamford senior co-captain Andrea O’Connor, who will be playing college volleyball at High Point University in North Carolina next fall.
O’Connor collected 24 kills and 11 blocks on the evening. Fellow senior setter Brooke Kelly amassed 27 assists and 15 service points. SHS senior libero Claire Dardis added 12 points and 10 digs. Mattioli (10 digs), Ariana Manco and Sam Chichester also concluded their Stamford volleyball careers.
“I’m so proud to say I was a part of this team. Everybody gave such special effort tonight and all season long,” O’Connor said. “The way Gloria (Mattioli) played despite being injured was amazing. Cheshire is undefeated for a reason. That is a great team. And we fought them tooth-and-nail to the very end.”
CHESHIRE 3, STAMFORD 1
STAMFORD 25 17 24 23—1
CHESHIRE 17 25 26 25—3
Records: Stamford 13-10; Cheshire 22-0.
Highlights: S—Andrea O’Connor 24 kills, 11 blocks. Brooke Kelly 27 assists, 15 service points, 2 aces. Claire Dardis 12 service points, 10 digs; Gloria Mattioli 10 digs. C—Mia Juodaitis 8 kills, 2 blocks; Julia Bartlet 3 kills, 5 blocks; Elena Piran 10 kills, 13 digs.