WATERBURY >> In a spellbinder from start to finish, Woodland’s girls volleyball team edged Torrington 3-2 (31-29, 25-19, 19-25, 23-25, 15-13) in an NVL semifinal match at Wilby High School Tuesday evening.
“If there are five sets in a match, we’re going to play them all,” said Woodland coach Jim Amato.
The Hawks (18-4 overall, 17-1 NVL) and Red Raiders (15-5 overall, 14-4 NVL) have played five-set matches three times this season, each of them coming out the same.
But, like a drive down a beautiful country road, the trip itself is always different.
Tuesday, determined to change the outcome, the Raiders jumped out early in Game One on an ace by sophomore C.C. Carbone. Caitlyn Cornish slammed a few kills; Miah Giarnese (11 kills, 3 aces) had a few, 12-8.
Woodland senior captain Anna Khalid (11 kills, 5 aces, 5 blocks) stepped in for a pair of aces. So did Giarnese.
With a bad pass by Woodland, the Raiders reached 24-20, just a point away from a first-game win.
“We make mistakes in buckets, but we don’t give up,” said Woodland Coach Amato.
Hawks Abbey Rosato (13 kills, 4 blocks) and Rayel Smith nailed kills, Torrington touched the net, Khalid served an ace.
Suddenly, it was 24-24 in a game where you have to win by two.
In an agony of chances, Torrington earned a one-point advantage four times. The final point wouldn’t come.
A bad pass tied it one more time, 29-29. Khalid blocked a kill for a point. A Torrington slam went long.
Woodland won 31-29.
For many, many teams, that would have been a back-breaker.
“I worried because they put so much into that first game,” said Torrington coach Christine Gamari.
After the first game’s epic struggles, the Hawks seemed to breeze through the second – up to a 24-16 lead. The Raiders hung in for four more points. Woodland junior Samantha White (15 kills, 2 aces) ended it emphatically with a huge kill.
Down 2-0, on the brink of an early trip home with one more defeat, the Red Raiders were in the same spot as Woodland was in Game One when the Hawks were one point away from defeat.
Torrington reacted the same way, gutting out a 25-19 win in Game three for a moral victory, then doing it again in Game four for much, much more.
When the Raiders pulled out of a 22-22 Game Four tie with kills by Giarnese and Samantha Zordan (6 kills, 5 aces, 12 digs) in a 25-23 win, the psychological shoe fit firmly on the other foot.
How do you stop such momentum?
“We do it by staying together as a team and picking each other up when we make a mistake,” said the Hawks’ Khalid.
On Torrington’s side, Coach Gamari said, “I saw a lot of fight. I told them, ‘I’ll take you in a fight any time.’”
That’s what game five was.
The score tied at six…seven…eight…nine…10…12…13.
After a marathon run through the first four games, each team made an all-out sprint to the finish.
Torrington’s Zordan served an ace, 12-12; a wide shot from Woodland made it 13-13. Rosato took the lead with a kill. Khalid ended it with a final kill.
Both teams finished on the same mountain of respect.
“They never fade,” said Woodland coach Amato.
“They’re well-coached and disciplined,” said Gamari.
The Hawks play the winner of Tuesday’s late semifinal between No. 1 Seymour and No. 5 Wolcott Thursday at Kennedy High School, 7 p.m.
Seymour gave the Hawks their only NVL loss in the regular season, 3-1.
NVL Girls Volleyball Semifinal
No. 2 Woodland 3, No. 3 Torrington 2
(31-29, 25-19, 19-25, 23-25, 15-13)
At Wilby High School
Highlights: T – Miah Giarnese 11 kills, 3 aces; Carly Ruzbasan 6 kills, 5 aces, 12 digs; Samantha Zordan 6 kills, 18 digs, 1 ace; Jayleen Colon 33 assists, 6 digs, 2 aces, 2 kills. W – Sam White 15 kills, 2 aces; Abbey Rosato 13 kills, 4 blocks; Anna Khalid 11 kills, 5 aces, 5 blocks.
Records: Torrington 15-5 (14-4 NVL); Woodland 18-4 (17-1 NVL).