STAMFORD — The Westhill volleyball team was 22-4 last fall, finished as the FCIAC runner-up, reached the Class LL semifinals, and graduated just three seniors from the roster.
All that should have set the Vikings up as the team to beat on both the conference and state levels this year.
Instead, an opening-day loss to Greenwich put the Cardinals squarely in the front-runner spotlight and a shutout at the hands of defending conference champ Trumbull dropped the Vikings to 7-2 through nine matches. It also surprisingly dropped Westhill out of the Connecticut Coaches Poll Top 10.
That didn’t last long.
Heading into Wednesday’s contests, Westhill is the hottest team in the FCIAC, winning seven straight matches, including a 3-0 shutout of Greenwich in the official conference game last Monday, and a 3-1 win over Ludlowe on Tuesday. The Vikings also defeated Darien and SWC contender Masuk, both 3-0, during that stretch.
With just five matches remaining until the postseason, Westhill is now back atop the FCIAC standings.
“Our key to winning against those teams (Greenwich and Ludlowe) was staying aggressive and focused,” Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan said. “I also asked them for 100 percent effort on every play and decision they make.”
The Vikings, who are now ranked No. 5 in the state coaches poll, which was compiled before their win over Ludlowe, are difficult to contend with.
They boast depth and versatility, with players able to fill in at multiple positions.
Senior Sophia Thagouras and junior Vana Servos are co-setters, and Thagouras can bring it as a hitter as well. Against Greenwich, she dished out 15 assists and added seven kills.
Seniors Betsy Sachs and Tamara Bellete are outstanding hitters, with Sachs on the outside and Bellete in the middle. Sachs led the Vikings with 11 kills versus Greenwich, and 19 against Ludlowe.
Combine that with two more strong senior hitters — Caroline Boyd and Sanja Nayak — and it’s difficult to tell where the next attack will come from.
The victory over Greenwich knocked the Cardinals from the No. 1 spot in the state — they’re now No. 4 – and capped a tough stretch of matches for Westhill.
“It was our high energy and determination that allowed us to beat an undefeated team,” Thagouras said of that match. “We didn’t want their No. 1 ranking in the state to intimidate us. Tonight we established that we can beat any team as long as we play our best. Tonight was the exclamation point on a great week.”
The road ahead isn’t easy. In the final five matches, the Vikings are scheduled to face New Canaan (10-4) twice, as well as Staples (8-5). Once the playoffs begin, anything goes.
“The key to winning the rest and staying focused is to take every game one at a time and concentrate,” Linnehan said. “Worry about what we need to do in that moment and have fun doing it, play with heart and stay aggressive point for point.”
Guilford finally lost a set — something which hadn’t happened since opening day — but the Indians remained unbeaten with their 3-2 victory at Cheshire on Monday.
It was the second time this season that Guilford (16-0) has defeated the defending SCC champions, and put the Indians in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which begins Nov. 2.
The Rams (11-3) gave Guilford its biggest challenge so far this season, but the Indians pulled away for the 25-23, 21-25, 25-14, 24-26, 15-5 win.
The narrow victory might have actually been of benefit for Guilford.
“I’m going to sound crazy for a second, but I’m glad we went to five games instead of four,” Guilford coach Laura Anastasio said. “It gives us the experience of playing five where it’s win or go home.”
“I think it improved our character,” Emma Appleman said. “We realized we can come back and we have to work hard to do that.”
The Indians have two big SCC matches remaining, both on their home court, as they face Shelton (14-3) at 6:30 p.m., Friday, and Amity (11-5) at 5:30 p.m., Monday. They’ll also play at East Lyme (9-6) in a non-conference game at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday.
WILD AND CRAZY FCIAC
Westhill’s recent wins over Greenwich and Ludlowe gave the Vikings (12-1 in conference) the No. 1 spot in the FCIAC, but even with those head-to-head tiebreakers, the position is far from secure with defending conference Trumbull lurking one game back.
Greenwich (12-1) is second, with Ludlowe (10-2) third and those two teams will clash in the regular-season finale at Ludlowe on Nov. 1.
Fourth-place Trumbull (9-2) owns a tiebreaker over Westhill, but has a loss to Ludlowe. The Eagles also still have Greenwich on the schedule, and they’ll play on the Cardinals’ home court on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Following the top four is a mash-up of teams, including New Canaan (9-3), Staples and Darien (both 8-4), Warde (6-6), and St. Joseph (6-7). Four of those teams will qualify for the eight-team conference tournament, with one staying home to wait for the state playoffs.
The key match for the final spot could come on the last day of the regular season when St. Joseph hosts Warde.
The FCIAC tournament begins with the quarterfinals on Tuesday, Nov. 5.