WINSTED — Northwestern’s girls volleyball team beat defending Berkshire League champion Nonnewaug 3-0 (25-13; 25-18; 25-23) for the third time in this strange, masked coronavirus season.
The Highlanders, 9-1, never trailed Wednesday after the Chiefs, 7-3, took them to five games at Woodbury on Monday. But with a schedule confined to their own geographic division thanks to COVID-19, that’s where strangeness steps up.
Wednesday’s game, necessary to fill the schedule since there are only six BL volleyball teams including add-on Wolcott Tech, didn’t count toward league standings.
That means there’s still a chance for a three-way regular-season tie between Northwestern, Nonnewaug and Wolcott Tech (3-1).
The Wildcats beat the Highlanders 3-0 early in the season after losing to Nonnewaug 3-1 in their opener. And guess what? Wolcott Tech plays both teams back-to-back next week.
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s coaches and players deserved special awards for sorting out the craziness with aplomb.
Nobody cared about lack of standings relevance in a match that grew increasingly tense with each game. The Chiefs’ Samantha Thompson (8 kills, 7 digs); Sabrina DeSorbo (5 kills, 4 digs, 2 aces); Sarah Cioriani (1 block, 15 assists, 5 digs); and Annalise Rupe (2 kills, 2 assists, 5 digs) led Nonnewaug to closer and closer scores in a match full of amazing digs.
Northwestern’s Ashlyn Zematis (13 kills, 2 assists, 4 digs, 8 aces); RaeLynn Perregaux (6 kills, 4 assists, 7 digs, 2 aces); and Natalie Munson (16 assists, 3 digs, 3 aces) led the Highlanders’ rock-solid pressure.
Coaches and seniors were unanimous that it all meant a great deal indeed, including games that don’t count.
“Going into the season, with all the new protocols, I thought ‘This is going to be a nightmare,’ ” said Northwestern coach Jon Hurlock. “I was nervous we wouldn’t get a single game in. These seniors have been playing since the seventh grade; I was worried they wouldn’t be able to see their hard work pay off.”
For both sides’ seniors, it already has, sometimes in unexpected ways, and often with extra difficulty.
“We’ve become a big family, especially under the circumstances,” said Gianna Piscitelli.
“With the mixed-up schedule, it’s been hard to balance work and playing,” said Amanda Taddeo.
“We were looking forward to the season. You work your way up for three years, but there are still a lot of competitive teams,” said Samantha Thompson.
“We’re lucky to have a season at all,” said Annalise Rupe. “We started outside and now our senior year is still a chance to play. I’m super excited to be playing in the league tournament.”
Northwestern seniors came with similar feelings:
“With softball not being a given in the spring, it’s great that we at least have a volleyball season,” said Ava Blanchard.
“I didn’t want to play in college,” said Highlander star Ashlyn Zematis. “But with a shorter season, I changed my mind. I don’t want to let it go.”
“It’s been different because we can’t bring our fans,” said Natalie Munson. “Last year, we had the best fans in every sport. This year, we’ve had to struggle to create the atmosphere ourselves. We’re more motivated than ever for the tournament because we’ve had to work so hard.”
“It’s a little frustrating not to be able to go to states, but it brought us closer as a team,” said Abby Jerram.
“It’s not as good as it could be with no fans and no states, but it’s a lot better than not having a season at all,” said Emily Munson.
The Berkshire League Tournament, as big as it gets now for all these kids, begins Nov. 17 among all six teams. Higher seeds will host each game.