STRATFORD — After a historic Wednesday night at home against Bunnell, Stratford’s girls volleyball team is going to have to reset their targets.
“Our big goal this season was to beat Bunnell,” Stratford senior libero Brianna LaPia said after the Red Devils’ 25-22, 25-14, 16-25, 26-24 win over the Bulldogs at Stratford’s Needham Gym.
“Now we’re just trying to get as high a seed in states and the SWC as we can. We’ve defied a lot of preconceived notions about Stratford High volleyball.”
Stratford (9-1, 7-1 SWC) hadn’t beat the Bulldogs in 29 years, according to athletic director Bob Baird.
“In one of my years, we went five with them,” said Stratford coach Lisa Buccieri, who came to the Red Devils in 1995 from Law. “I didn’t want to go five again.”
Bunnell almost did it, taking leads in the fourth game of 7-4, 17-13 and 23-20. But Stratford finished it off, getting big plays all over the court in the final points.
Stratford has never been to an SWC final since the league began in 1995 and has never made a CIAC final; Bunnell has won eight SWC titles and four state championships.
Where does this Stratford team stack up in Buccieri’s time there?
“This is the best,” Buccieri said. “Without a doubt.”
Bunnell coach Maite Mendizabal, a Bulldogs alumna, said she can see how Buccieri has helped this team grow.
“Balls aren’t hitting the court,” said Mendizabal, whose Bulldogs are 7-4, 5-2. “They’re scrappy.”
And, she said, they’ve got big hitters, too. The combination was enough to control the first two games and get back into the fourth.
It all started defensively, though, with LaPia (20 digs) and junior Jackie DeCrescenzo (11 digs) setting the tone from the start.
“Communication is really important, and also watching the other side of the court,” LaPia said. “As a team, we’ve tried to really develop our defense. Our defensive skills have gotten a lot better.”
Stratford took charge of what started as a back-and-forth first game. The second game was tied as late as 10-10 before the Red Devils ran away.
Bunnell senior libero Alisa Delaney’s defense and passing helped the Bulldogs settle their offense and get back in the match. Mendizabal swapped Lexi Kretvix and Maura Kelly and urged her team to mix up their attacks.
“We are not an offensive team,” Mendizabal said. “We’re a defensive team. It is a little tough when we’re not picking up balls (defensively).”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Stratford junior Jackie DeCrescenzo was all over the scoresheet, including 18 assists and 11 digs.
Even for the junior varsity match, one side of the Needham Gym bleachers were full. By the time the varsity match began, Stratford pulled out half of the bleachers on the other side. Attendance was around 650, and they were engaged.
“It is fun,” Mendizabal said. “They had to open another bleacher. You don’t get crowds like this anymore. I told the girls, you’re going to get taunted, and you’re going to get cheered.”
There was probably more cheering than taunting, particularly as players on both sides sacrificed the body to come up with digs.
The crowd made communication even more important.
“I couldn’t even hear myself think,” Buccieri said. “They had to be even louder.”
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
What makes this the best Red Devils team in recent history?
“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of determination,” Buccieri said. “It’s keeping focus, not psyching themselves out. And it’s definitely communication.”
Said LaPia, “even off the court, we’re just a team. We always have each other’s backs. I’ve never had this kind of chemistry with any other team I’ve been on.”
“The girls are tough. They want to play. It seems they don’t give up.” — Stratford coach Lisa Buccieri
STRATFORD 3, BUNNELL 1
BUNNELL22 14 25 24—1
STRATFORD25 25 16 26—3
Records: Bunnell 7-4, 5-2 SWC; Stratford 9-1, 7-1. Highlights: B—Alisa Delaney had 44 digs. Gabby Shannon had 20 digs, six kills and 28 assists. Kayla Sokunle had 10 kills and two blocks. Amanda Zdru had five kills and 12 digs. S—Madyson Perley had six digs. Jackie DeCrescenzo had 18 assists, 11 digs, five kills and three aces. Brianna LaPia had 20 digs. Sam Carbone had 10 kills, two blocks and two aces.