MILFORD — They can bring a CIAC girls volleyball championship back to their school for the first time in their lifetimes on Saturday, but the motivation for St. Joseph is way simpler.
“Everyone’s just ready,” senior setter Grace Vocalina said after Tuesday night’s 3-0 Class M semifinal win over Haddam-Killingworth. “We’re so passionate. We want to do it for each other.”
The top-seeded Cadets withstood a late surge from H-K at the end of the first set but rolled to a 25-19, 25-13, 25-10 win to reach the program’s eighth Class M final. It has won five of those seven championship matches, but none since 1997.
The Cadets reached the final in 2014, when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“They were in the stands as JV players back then,” coach Jeff Babineau said. “It’s good that they saw it. They know what it’s about. I think they’re ready.”
St. Joseph (24-2) plays Saturday at seventh-seeded East Haven (which hosts all four finals), time to be announced. The Yellowjackets (21-5) knocked off third seed and defending champion Seymour 3-2.
The fourth-seeded Cougars (21-4) were seeking their first berth in a Class M final. They reached the quarterfinals the past two years after winning Class S in 2014.
Cougars coach Robin Callender said they knew they’d have to be on their game Tuesday.
“We were very inconsistent right from the start,” Callender said. “St. Joe’s is a great, incredible team. They were very consistent. They got the job done and had a couple of great hitters.”
Vocalina credited her hitters for keeping Haddam-Killingworth out of sync, as well as St. Joseph’s serving: On 73 serves, the Cadets made just three errors, one in each set.
“We were able just consistently to keep serves in,” Vocalina said.
The Cadets’ serve-receive helped Vocalina to 24 assists. The offense was spread around, with nine kills for Elena Ball, seven for Bridget Fatse and six for Christina Crocco.
The first set was 5-5 before St. Joseph took control, leading 10-5, 16-9, 24-13. The Cougars went on a run on libero Lizzie Doxsee’s serve, but a Fatse kill finished it off.
“I kept telling them, now we’re in the semifinals, and you can’t give up an eight-, 10-point lead and not have a chance to come back,” Callender said.
Runs of 9-0 and 7-0 gave the Cadets a 16-3 lead in the second set. They steadily built their lead in the third.
“We’ve worked like this all year,” Babineau said. “We’ve worked hard at getting the chemistry, at not letting the ball touch the floor.”
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Tough pick in an impressive all-around St. Joseph night. In the middle of it all was senior setter Grace Vocalina, who had 24 assists.
The Cougars were Shoreline Conference champions and carried a 16-match winning streak into Tuesday.
“We definitely had some ups and downs,” Callender said. “At one point we had three starters hurt. It took a while. We’re just going to focus on positive things. Hopefully we’ll learn for next year. We’ve got eight juniors, and hopefully this will help them.”
WORTH AT LEAST THREE POINTS
This probably would have been way further up in this story had H-K won, but as the Cougars warmed up before the match, senior Sam Mohammed heaved a volleyball into a cart near her bench from the other side of the court.
“We kept the pressure on. We kept them out of their systems all night. We capitalized on everything they did wrong.” —St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau
ST. JOSEPH 3, HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH 0
HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH19 13 10—0
ST. JOSEPH25 25 25—3
Records: Haddam-Killingworth 21-4; St. Joseph 24-2