It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
The Bristol Eastern volleyball team, at least during the regular season, is finishing on top.
The Lancers, who knocked off three-time defending CCC champion RHAM in a five-set thriller last Wednesday, were 17-0 heading into Wednesday’s action and have taken over as the No. 1 team in the final regular-season state coach’s poll this week.
First-year head coach Stefanie Reay said the Lancers are a cohesive group of players.
‘These girls truly love playing with each other and for each other,” Reay said. “And they work hard to make each other better and to better themselves every day.”
Reay had been an assistant for the Lancers from 2014 to 2017 before leading Oxford last fall, but she quickly returned to Bristol Eastern when Stacy Rivoira stepped down after 14 years.
Reay’s Lancers feature star outside hitter in Zoe Lowe, a junior who was second team All-State last year. She leads the team in kills (242) and aces (57) to go along with 94 digs.
The captains are senior libero Rebecca Bender, who has a team-best 185 digs, outside hitter Brooke Dorsio and middle hitter Ariana Caucci.
“They have really stepped up and owned that role and do a tremendous amount to help me make sure the program is running smoothly,” Reay said. “They hold themselves and their teammates to very high standards of work ethic and behavior, both on and off the court, and they have earned the respect of their teammates, and myself as well, by doing so.”
Middle hitters Ryley Plourde (91 kills, 23 blocks), a junior, and Hannah Webber (89 kills, 32 blocks), a sophomore, have been big weapons for the offense and defense.
Junior setter Leah Chipman has also been outstanding, racking up 527 assists, an average of 9.4 per set.
In the win over RHAM, the Lancers twice took the lead, but had to overcome two comeback bids by the Sachems to get the win, 25-18, 20-25, 25-17, 17-25, 15-10. The loss knocked RHAM (15-1) from the No. 1 spot in the state.
The key, Reay said, was the Lancers’ “ability to refocus and regain control of the game at key points. Every single player on the team contributed positively to that victory in some way. The energy in the gym that night was amazing.”
The end of the regular season isn’t easy. Bristol Eastern played at town rival Bristol Central (14-3) on Wednesday night, and concludes the regular season by hosting Lyman Memorial (15-1) at 6 p.m., Friday.
The CCC tournament gets underway on Monday, with the Class L playoffs to follow the next week. The Lancers are lined up to be the top seed in both tournaments.
“The team is extremely excited for the postseason,” Reay said. “We have a lot of work to do still, but we are improving and strive to get better in some way every day.”
FCIAC PUZZLE GETS ITS PIECES
The eight teams for the FCIAC girls volleyball tournament have been determined, but the final seeds won’t be finalized until Friday.
Westhill, which is riding a 10-game winning streak that includes victories over four other tournament teams, has the inside track for the No. 1 seed. The Vikings can secure the top spot on Friday with either a win over Norwalk, or a Greenwich loss to Ludlowe.
Friday’s match between Greenwich and Ludlowe, is a possible semifinal preview, as they’ll likely end up as the second and third seeds.
Trumbull, the defending champion, closes with matches against Stamford and Brien McMahon and will finish either fourth or fifth. New Canaan, Staples and Darien had already clinched when the week began, and Warde wrapped up the final playoff spot with its win over Brien McMahon on Tuesday.
The FCIAC quarterfinals will be played on Monday.
GUILFORD, SHELTON TAKE TOP TWO IN SCC
Guilford has been the SCC front-runner for most of the season, but it’s Shelton which heads into the postseason as the league’s hottest team as the conference tournament tips off this weekend.
Guilford is the No. 1 seed and will have a first-round bye, but it has stumbled during the past week. The Indians won their first 16 games, but after defeating defending league champ Cheshire, 3-2 on Oct. 21, they’ve lost three of four. Two of those losses were against non-conference opponents Fitch and East Lyme, but the other was a 3-1 defeat at league rival Shelton last Friday.
That win wrapped up the No. 2 seed for Shelton, which has won nine of its last 10 heading into the postseason, including victories over SCC contenders Cheshire, Guilford and Law (twice).
The SCC tournament features 14 teams and opens this weekend.
Friday’s first-round matches include No. 13 North Haven at No. 4 Law at 3:45 p.m., along with No. 12 Sheehan at No. 5 Hand, and No. 9 West Haven at No. 8 East Haven, both at 5 p.m.
Saturday’s games are No. 11 Career at No. 6 Amity, and No. 10 Mercy at No. 7 Sacred Heart Academy, both at 3 p.m., and No. 14 Hamden at No. 3 Cheshire at 6 p.m.
The SCC quarterfinals are on Tuesday, Nov. 5, and the semis are Thursday, Nov. 7, both rounds at the highest remaining seeds. The championship will be played at 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 9, at East Haven High School.
JOEL BARLOW (SURPRISE!) LEADS SWC
Joel Barlow has won the last seven SWC championships and the Falcons are set up for a run at eight as they’ve earned the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.
Barlow (17-3) lost two of its first three matches, but has won 16 of 17 since – the only blemish coming in a 3-0 loss to Weston last Tuesday. The Falcons and Trojans split two meetings this fall.
Given their past history and current performance, the Falcons are the clear SWC favorites again, but will face some tough challengers, including No. 2 Weston and No. 3 Masuk, another team which split two contests with Barlow this fall.
The SWC tournament starts Monday with No. 8 Stratford at No. 1 Barlow, No. 5 Newtown at No. 4 New Milford, No. 7 Immaculate at No. 2 Weston, and No. 6 Pomperaug at No. 3 Masuk. All matches are scheduled for 6 p.m.
The semifinals will be played Thursday, Nov. 7, at the highest remaining seeds, and the final will be played on Saturday, Nov. 9, at a site to be determined.
CATS AND DOGS REIGNING IN NVL
Seymour and Naugatuck lead the Naugatuck Valley League standings and were ready to wrap the season with an intriguing match-up as the unbeaten Wildcats (18-0) visited the Greyhounds (18-1) on Wednesday.
Seymour, the defending Class M champion, hasn’t dropped a set all season, while Nauagtuck has lost just seven frames, including three in its lone loss: A 3-1 defeat at St. Paul Catholic last Tuesday.
Those two front-runners are followed by Woodland (15-3), defending league champ Kennedy (16-3), St. Paul (12-7) Holy Cross (10-9), Wolcott (11-7) and Oxford (10-9). Seeds and first-round match-ups will be finalized after Wednesday’s action.
The NVL tournament kicks off with quarterfinal games at the top four seeds on Saturday.