STAMFORD — The Westhill girls volleyball team needs three more wins to earn its first state title in almost 40 years.
If the Vikings continue to play like they did in the third set of Thursday’s second-round victory over Hamden, that goal could be well within reach.
Westhill, seeded third in the CIAC Class LL playoffs, finished off Hamden with flair to advance in straight sets and earn a meeting with defending state champion and FCIAC-rival Greenwich on Saturday.
Westhill took the first set 25-21 and the second set 25-17, but the victories were hardly convincing against a Hamden team that was overmatched on paper as the 19th seed but came off the bus full of spunk.
Things changed in the third set, though. The Vikings looked as if they found a way to go into their settings and turn on teamwork. They rotated smoother, covered for each other’s mistakes, forced the Green Dragons into errors and seemed to get kills on every opportunity. Hamden was shell-shocked. Westhill won 16 consecutive points while jumping out to a 21-1 lead before closing out the match, 25-9.
The difference between sets 2 and 3, according to Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan, was simple: The Vikings turned up the fun.
“We started off slow,” Linnehan said, “and then I’m like, listen, go out there and have fun. I want you to have fun and play hard like we do in practice every day. That’s what they do. They just went out and had fun.
“I think we started off playing flat with our energy,” she added. “We made a ton of mistakes and we were trying to find out rhythm.”
Junior Sophia Thagouras led Westhill (21-3) with nine kills. Junior Betsy Sachs had six kills and seven digs while sophomore Vasiliki Servos added seven digs and three aces.
“The last set we really picked it up and decided we’re going to dominate and take that on to the rest of the state championship games,” Thagouras said.
The road to the championship leads Westhill to a quarterfinal matchup with Greenwich. The defending state champs are seeded 11th this year, but they knocked off No. 6 Fairfield Ludlowe on Thursday. Westhill needed five sets to beat Greenwich in October.
“I really just want to continue playing like we did in Game 3 where our energy was high and we were playing smart,” Linnehan said. “I know it’s not going to be easy from now on. So I just want to take away their energy and love for the sport and keep it going.”
Westhill’s only state titles came in 1975 and 1980. But Thagouras likes the Vikings’ chance if they continue to play as a team.
“We talk a lot about team bonding,” she said. “We have a lot of chemistry on the court and it shows. Off the court we’re all really close and it’s something that a lot of teams don’t have. So I think we are able to bring each other up and play together very fluidly.”
Hamden ended its season at 13-11.
“It was an up-and-down season for the most part, but they fight, they scramble, they don’t give up,” coach Tricia Shugrue said.
“I tell them all the time, we play better when we talk to each other constantly — where the ball is, seeing the ball, seeing what’s on the other side. That was a huge difference in the third game. We just didn’t talk as much as we did in the first one. And that hustle was there in the first and second game.”
WESTHILL 3, HAMDEN 0
HAMDEN 21 17 9 — 0
WESTHILL 25 25 25 — 3