SHELTON — The quest for its first Southern Connecticut Conference girls volleyball title since 2010 got off to a roaring start for Shelton at Murray Gymnasium against visiting Sacred Heart Academy on Tuesday night.
Using their superior size advantage and powerful hitting, the second-seeded Gaels dispatched the Sharks 3-0 (25-8, 25-13, 26-24) in their quarterfinal matchup to roll on in the SCC tournament. Shelton (17-3) will host third-seeded Cheshire on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinals.
“I’m excited to play on Thursday,” said Shelton senior Reem Abdel-Hack, who led the way with 10 kills, four aces and two blocks. “It’s going to be a really good game against Cheshire. They’re a very good team.”
The hitting of Abdel-Hack, Elizabeth Casinelli (who also notched 10 kills), Clarissa Pierre and Jessica Jayakar, combined with deft passing of Jess Foss (30 assists) helped Shelton run away with the first two games.
“We try to utilize our height as much as we can,” Abdel-Hack said. “We have so much potential up front.”
Sacred Heart Academy (13-8), which led just once — 1-0 in game two — heading into the third game, found its footing in trying to fend off the sweep.
The Sharks grabbed an 18-15 edge on the serve of Julianna Corniello, before Sarah Ovesny took off on the line for Shelton following a block from Abdel-Hack.
Ovesny rattled off seven straight points, sandwiched around a SHA timeout, until the Sharks regained serve trailing 22-20. With Julia Davis now on the line, Sacred Heart leveled the game at 23, leading to a Shelton timeout.
“I said I believe in you and they went out and did what they had to do,” Shelton coach LeAnne Bianchine said. “They’re very good at coming back.”
Almost on cue, Jayakar hammered a shot into the center on the floor to give Shelton match point. The Gaels then punched their tickets to the semis with two straight points after the Sharks evened it out again at 24.
“We stepped up the pace in game three and gave it our best effort,” SHA head coach Kimberly Curbow said. “I’m proud of the kids for playing their hardest.”
In the first game, Abdel-Hack’s run of service, which featured a pair of aces, helped the Shelton build up an insurmountable 15-4 lead.
“We’re just trying to be smart,” Abdel-Hack said of keeping her serves in play. “We’ve had trouble serving at times.”
Shelton also pulled away midway through the second game, putting itself in position to finish off the sweep in the tightly-contest game three.
Up next is the rubber match between Cheshire, which defeated sixth-seeded Amity 3-1 (25-18, 25-18, 22-25, 25-18) and the Gaels. The rivals split their regular-season matchups, with Shelton winning 3-1 at Murray Gymnasium and Cheshire (15-4) sweeping 3-0 at West Gymnasium.
The winner will face either Jonathan Law or Guilford in the final at 6 p.m. on Saturday at East Haven High.
“We need to get back there,” Bianchine said of reaching the championship. “I told them this is the team that can get it done.”