TRUMBULL — It was a rematch the Trumbull volleyball team wanted.
The defending FCIAC champion Eagles made the second time around count, taking three close sets for a 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-23) victory over New Canaan in the conference quarterfinals Tuesday at Trumbull High School.
The Rams had shut out Trumbull during the regular season, and when the Eagles had looked at possible playoff opponents, New Canaan was a team which stood out.
“That was a big motivating factor,” Trumbull coach Nicole Trommelen said. “When we were looking at potential match-ups, the girls really wanted a shot at New Canaan again. They really challenged us the first time and we didn’t rise to the occasion. The girls really wanted to go out there and prove that we can compete and we can fight.”
“We were really motivated to play New Canaan again because the first time we played them, we didn’t play our best game,” Trumbull junior Bailey Cenatiempo said. “Both teams have really good players, so we had to focus on getting really good passes and really good swings and I think we did that.”
— Dave Stewart (@DStewartSports) November 6, 2019
No. 4 Trumbull (16-3) advances to the FCIAC semifinals, where it will face No. 1 Westhill (18-3) at 5 p.m., Thursday at Fairfield-Ludlowe High School. Trumbull and Westhill squared off in last year’s conference final, with the Eagles winning 3-0 for their first league championship.
For No. 5 New Canaan (14-6), which will have a home game in the opening round of the Class LL tournament next week, inexperience in the playoffs may have been a factor.
“Trumbull played outstanding,” New Canaan coach Kevin Marino said. “They were sharp all day long, so they were just hard to compete with. I never really felt like we brought it. This being this group’s first FCIAC game, I think they were a little nervous and more scared to make a mistake than to be aggressive. That tends to lead to more mistakes.”
Defense has been a strength for the Rams this season and in their win over Trumbull, they extended points until the Eagles made errors. This time around, it flipped as New Canaan still extended points, but the Rams eventually made the errors.
“We defended really well, it was just on the offensive side of the ball, we didn’t stay as aggressive as we could’ve been,” Marino said. “That led to errors and we gave them too many points.”
Trumbull got a big game from Cenatiempo, an outside hitter who collected 11 kills and 11 digs to go along with four aces. Junior setter Ali Castro dished out 34 assists and also had four aces, while libero Ashleigh Johnson had a game-best 21 digs. Middle Lindsay Gibbs added nine kills.
“Our middles did a really good job and that allowed the middle blocker to focus on the middle, which opened up the outside attack for our two outsides, especially Bailey,” Trommelen said. “Towards the end of the match, they were really able to elevate, get up and put the ball away because our middles early on in the match did a good job holding that blocker.”
For New Canaan, junior setter Elle Sneddon distributed the ball well, while middles Allison Leopold, a senior, and Lillie Gray, a junior, were big up front. Junior Melinda Qu was a key on defense, and sophomore Stella Turner was solid while stepping up as an outside hitter.
Trumbull took a back-and-forth first set by three points, and then led most of the way while winning the second frame by five.
In the third set, the Eagles opened up a 20-15 lead and seemed to be on the verge of clinching the victory when New Canaan rallied for five points to tie it at 20-20.
Cenatiempo then came through with two kills for a 22-20 Eagles’ lead, but again the Rams rallied, scoring three straight points for a 23-22 advantage following a block by Gray.
After a Trumbull timeout, the Eagles responded with three consecutive points, as Cenatiempo ended it with a final kill for the win.
“It was definitely a little nerve-wracking, but I like that kind of pressure,” Cenatiempo said of the third set. “It pushes me to work even harder.”
“During the timeout, I told them to just keep it simple and we did a good job of going back to basics,” Trommelen said. “We were trying to earn too many points on one swing. You only get one point on one swing, so let’s keep it simple. It was a nice controlled swing, and she placed it well and not directly at a defender, and that got us rolling at the end of the game.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Bailey Cenatiempo, Trumbull. The junior outside hitter led the Eagles’ offense with 11 kills. She also came ended several points late in the third set to hold off New Canaan’s comeback bid.
“There’s definitely a little added pressure (being defending champs), but the girls like that. The girls are out to prove that last year wasn’t just a one-time thing. Trumbull wants to be a program that is going to compete for the FCIAC title every single year. Teams always want to beat us; we’ve gotten that vibe all year long.” – Trumbull coach Nicole Trommelen