After a slow start in the first half of the season, the West Haven volleyball team knew it had to take everything one step at a time. Those steps are on the verge of leading to a postseason berth.
Behind a balanced effort which saw senior Bria Stanley lead the way with 18 digs, and Giliana Santaniello and Savannah Lopez combine for 32 assists to run the offense, West Haven rallied to defeat Sacred Heart Academy 3-2 in a Southern Connecticut Conference interdivision contest Thursday evening at West Haven High.
The 25-12, 18-25, 25-19, 16-25, 15-6 victory helped West Haven avenge an earlier season loss to the Sharks and also improved the team’s record to 7-5.
“We constantly talk about communication,” Coldren said. “We need to communicate better. I told them (between fourth and fifth games) now is the time to do that. I love the way we responded.”
With the games even at two, Sacred Heart Academy (8-4) got the first point on a West Haven error. Anet serve by the Sharks gave West Haven a 3-2 lead and the Westies never looked back.
A pair of kills by Stanley put West Haven up by three points, before Noelle Noble increased the margin to 6-3. Lopez extended the margin to 8-4 with an ace, before the Sharks got within 9-6 on an ace by Julianna Corniello.
An ace by Noble had West Haven up 11-6, and Neve Krajcir and Chekeenah Jeudi followed with kills to get the Westies within a point of closing out the match.
“I think we are realizing we need to be a team on the court,” Stanley said. “We have that chemistry off the court. We need to bring it to the court. We are close to making the playoffs. We are realizing this and coming together.”
The fifth game was necessary as the Sharks pulled away in the fourth game to win by nine points. Sacred Heart closed the fourth game in dominant fashion with a 17-8 run, including an ace by Nina Longobardi for an 18-10 advantage, and a kill by Jill Manning to close the game.
“We ran out of steam after that,” Sacred Heat Academy coach Kim Curbow said. “We are battling a little illness and I think that did not help. We fought hard. I think our mental toughness is amazing. This team has so much heart. They are fun to watch and fun to coach.”
West Haven opened the contest in impressive fashion, winning the opening game by 13 points. Stanley had a pair of kills for a 19-10 lead, added another for a 21-11 advantage, then saw a kill by Noble for a 23-12 lead.
“One of our goals was to do so in the first half of the season,” Coldren said of qualifying for the postseason. “But, if we do it just a little under a week after, I can live with that.”
The Sharks battled back in the second game to even the contest as a kill by Manning had the Sharks on top 20-14. A pair of kills by Corniello increased the margin to 22-17, before an ace by Ally Kirck gave the Sharks a 22-19 lead.
Kirck was on the line for the final three points to close out the game. Manning finished with nine kills and five digs, while Corniello had nine digs and five kills in the loss for the Sharks.
West Haven was led by Noble who finished with nine kills, seven digs, and four aces. Krajcir added seven digs, four aces and four kills, while Santaniello and Lopez each had six digs on the defensive side.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Bria Stanley: The West Haven senior finished with 18 kills and three blocks, with two of those kills and a block coming in the decisive fifth game.
“It is good for us to see when we need to step it up. We have to do it together. We can’t depend on the next person. Everyone has to be ready mentally and physically.” — West Haven coach Kate Coldren