STAMFORD — The Stamford High School girls volleyball squad has been the team with the target on its back all season.
Such is the life the Black Knights chose after rolling to the FCIAC title and the Class LL state championship in 2016.
Eight seniors from that group graduated while the 2017 Stamford High members have caught the fallout of that success.
“Everybody wants to beat us this year,” said Stamford senior newcomer Brooke Kelly. “We are a completely different team. But all the opponents see is (Stamford High colors) black and orange. Over the course of the season we have come a long way.”
The Black Knights continued their fight to qualify for the FCIAC playoffs Wednesday by sweeping Wilton, 25-11, 25-19, 25-11 in the friendly confines of Paul Kuczo Gym.
The triumph leaves Stamford at 8-7 in league with only a home match against Trinity Catholic on Friday remaining. New Canaan lost to Staples on Wednesday and is also 8-7 to tie SHS for the eighth and final playoff slot.
New Canaan hosts Westhill in its regular-season finale. Stamford holds the tiebreaker over New Canaan since it beat the Rams earlier in the year.
“We’re working and trying our best,” said Stamford’s veteran coach, Mike Smeriglio.
STAMFORD’S PIECES FALLING INTO PLACE
The Black Knights are fortunate to have a weapon like 6-foot-1 hitter Andrea O’Connor. The senior amassed 16 kills and two blocks Wednesday against Wilton while passing the 1,000 career kill mark in midseason.
Stamford has won two straight and four of its last five matches. It is the contributions of those around O’Connor who have made this stretch-run surge possible.
Thanks to the improved serving of junior Kim Magliari (15 service points Wednesday), Kelly (12 service points) and designated server Ariana Manco, Stamford has been able to dictate points better. This allows the Black Knights to take full advantage of O’Connor’s presence on the front row as well.
With senior co-captain Gloria Mattioli out injured Wednesday, senior Claire Dardis, sophomore Morgan Yacavone, senior Samantha Chichester and sophomore Liani Mercado all chipped in defensively Wednesday when called upon.
“We went through a lot of different lineups along the way. But we’re coming around now,” said Kelly, who had 18 assists Wednesday and is the point guard on the SHS girls basketball team. “Andrea (O’Connor) does so much. But all the pieces are coming together. Our serving placement is better. And our back-row defense has stepped up very big.”
TOUGH DAY FOR WILTON
Wilton doesn’t really have the height to deal effectively with O’Connor’s offense.
The Warriors fell behind 7-1 and 14-4 in Game 1. They saw Stamford turn an 8-3 deficit into an 11-8 lead in Game 2. Stamford jumped out 11-1 and 16-4 in Game 3.
Wilton fell to 4-11 in league, but it was a critical loss (7-12 overall) in its quest to qualify for the state tournament.
“Stamford has a great weapon in Andrea O’Connor. But we didn’t play well,” said Wilton coach Steve Brienza. “We had very little energy. When Andrea hits like that, Stamford owns all the momentum. We just played poorly.”
STAMFORD AND THE STATE PLAYOFFS
With Wednesday’s victory, Stamford (11-8 overall) moved into the top 20 in the Class LL state volleyball rankings.
The Black Knights may face some long bus rides, but they’re a group that the other half of the state will not want to see in its bracket.
STAMFORD 3, WILTON 0
WILTON 11 19 11—0
STAMFORD 25 25 25—3
Records: Wilton 7-12, 4-11 FCIAC; Stamford 11-8, 8-7 FCIAC.
Highlights: S—Andrea O’Connor 16 kills, 2 blocks; Kim Magliari 15 service points, 4 kills; Brooke Kelly 18 assists, 12 service points.