Class LL Volleyball Spiking to the semis
STAMFORD — After losing to Trumbull in the championship game of the FCIAC Volleyball Tournament, Westhill was determined to get back on the court and go after a title that’s eluded it for a long time — the Class LL championship.
Three wins later, the Vikings are only two victories away from accomplishing their ultimate goal.
Dictating the points and carrying the momentum from the outset, third-seeded Westhill registered a convincing 3-0 victory over 11th-seeded Greenwich in the CIAC Class LL Tournament quarterfinals.
The host Vikings advanced to the Class LL semifinals, where they will face either Amity or Cheshire on Wednesday. Westhill (22-3) won Saturday’s matchup against the Cardinals by set scores of 25-15, 25-17, 25-20.
This season’s FCIAC West Division champions, Westhill last won a state title when it claimed the Class L crown in 1980. They were the runner-up in the Class L tourney in 1982.
“We haven’t gotten this far in a long time, so we need to make the most of it,” Westhill junior Betsy Sachs said. “Our team wants to make it to the state finals, that’s our mentality.”
Said Vikings senior Nikki Newcomer: “It’s amazing to advance to the semifinals, after the FCIAC situation, we wanted to go further and further. We wanted it. It was a tough, tough loss for us in the FCIAC finals, but that gave us motivation to try to go all the way in states.”
The loss ended Greenwich’s journey toward a second straight Class LL championship. The Cardinals, who finished their season with a record of 15-7, topped Amity for the state title last fall.
“They have six great athletes on the court and they moved the ball around,” GHS coach Steve Lapham said of Westhill. “Give them credit, they outplayed us. Winning that third game would have been big for us, but Westhill finished it off.”
Newcomer registered 14 service points, 18 digs and five kills, while Sachs posted seven service points, five digs and nine kills for Westhill, which notched a 3-2 regular-season win over Greenwich. Senior Nina Bakuradze had 12 digs, while sophomore Vasiliki Servos added eight service points, two aces, two digs and 14 assists.
For Greenwich, sophomore Lilly Saleeby tallied 11 kills, six service points and three aces. Cardinals teammates Amelia Bartlett, a senior, had nine digs and six service points and senior Carolina Lew had nine digs.
“Everyone was saying that this was going to be a rebuilding year for us, but we proved that we are a strong team,” Bartlett said. “Westhill, today, was consistent. They were there for every ball and reading everything.”
Westhill jumped out to leads of 7-3 and 15-6 on its way to winning the first game. Junior Tamar Bellete sealed the set for the Vikings with a kill.
Newcomer’s block gave the Vikings a 23-13 advantage in the opening set.
“Everyone was playing great, not just one specific person,” Bellete said. “Our energy was the big thing that carried us through this match. We haven’t been in this position before, so we are excited.”
The Vikings, also got off to a sizeable lead in the second game. Kills from Newcomer, junior Sophia Thagouras and junior Gloria Twum helped the home team seize a 15-5 advantage.
“We just were on our game and we knew if we wanted to win had to dominate from the start,” said Thagouras, who tallied 14 service points, three digs, 12 assists and five kills. “We are making up for our FCIAC game in the finals and trying to go as far as we can.”
Saleeby tried to keep Greenwich in the second set with several kills.
“We didn’t think we were going to do as well as we did this year, because we lost a lot of players from last year, but we had a very good season,” Saleeby said. “I only see better things for us in the future. Give Westhill credit, they were strong with every hit and showed they were not ready to go home.”
Westhill’s serve receive, passing, setting and hitting was on point throughout. Greenwich’s best moments came in the third game. Behind freshman Adele Sotgiu (five kills), Saleeby and Bartlett, Greenwich led the majority of the third game.
A tip by Sotgiu put GHS on top, 22-21, but Thagouras came back with a tip, evening the score at 22-22. After Westhill won the next two points to go ahead, 24-22, Greenwich pulled to within 25-23, but the Vikings won the ensuing point to close out the match.
“This feels amazing, we want to win it for our seniors, our coaches and ourselves,” said Servos, a sophomore. “The whole time we kept going and kept playing hard. We wanted to finish it in the third set and win.”
Said Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan: “This is such a great team with a lot of drive to do better. They wanted to win FCIACs so bad and after we lost, we said let’s go after another championship. They have all been playing extremely well.”
The loss marked the final match in the careers of Cardinals’ seniors, Erin O’Keefe, Gia Alfano, Jackie Feehan, Julia Feehan, Bartlett and Lew — the captain.
“It was an amazing honor to get to lead the girls, who hopefully, looked up to me and learned a lot from me,” Lew said. “We had a lot of other leaders step up on the court for us. Westhill was great, they kept us out of system with their hitting and serving.”
“I told them to keep moving the ball around and use our options,” Linnehan said. “If someone is off, have someone else pick them up. Nina did a really good job of passing, Tamar was hitting well at the net and our two smart setters were making the necessary adjustments.”
Said Lapham: “Our season was a huge success. We won 15 games after most of our starters from last season left and came back and made it to the quarterfinals in LL — a strong division. It was a solid season.”
WESTHILL 3, GREENWICH 0
GREENWICH 15 17, 23
WESTHILL 25 25 25