On the surface, the Fairfield Warde girls volleyball team's win over visiting Bassick of Bridgeport on Monday looks like an easy one. The Mustangs rolled 3-0 (25-12, 25-13, 25-13) to improve to 9-2 overall (8-2 in the FCIAC), and the Lions fell to 0-12. The victory was, in fact, not difficult for the hosts, but Bassick made things interesting by keeping matters close early on in each game, only to have the Mustangs pull away.
Kaitlin McKenna compiled eight service points, four aces, and nine kills for Warde; Catie Keegan racked up 11 service points, four aces, three kills, and three digs; libero Tori Gallati had 12 digs; and setter Erika Leppla dished out 18 assists.
"I'm proud of my team. I think we kept up our energy and worked hard," said Gallati, who led the victory with aggressive play, including multiple dives to keep balls alive.
"I think we just really focused on our passing and trying our hardest," McKenna added.
Warde assistant coach Nick Paci, who stepped in with head coach Matt Narwold unavailable for the match, was pleased with his team's ability to pull through and close out each game despite Bassick's resiliency.
Warde led 7-4 in the first game before reeling off eight straight points, prompting the Lions to call timeout. The break in action hardly slowed the Mustangs, who went on to close out the opening frame on Stephanie Sheehan's kill.
In the second game, Gallati made a diving play to keep the volley alive and set up a McKenna kill for a 6-2 lead. Bassick hung close, pulling even at 6-6 before the teams went back and forth. A Sheehan kill broke the tie, and Warde ultimately went ahead by three points. The Lions closed to within one at 12-11, leading the Mustangs to call for time. Out of the timeout, the Mustangs scored six in a row, capped by a McKenna hit for an 18-11 cushion. After Bassick made a little noise to get to within 18-13, a booming McKenna kill to end a long volley made it 19-13 to kick-start a 7-0 Mustang run to close out the game. Another diving effort by Gallati kept the ball off the court and led to a late-game point.
The third game started similarly to the second, with the Mustangs seizing leads of 6-2 and 7-3 only to have the Lions get to within a point. Bassick scored the first point of the third game, for its only lead of the entire match, but the Mustangs didn't take long to get on track. McKenna held serve for four straight points to help her team to a 6-2 lead. Sheehan had a trio of service points to give the Mustangs some breathing room after the Lions closed to within 7-6. Kiera McNeil sealed the win with three aces among the final four points.
"I think the kids put up a good fight -- they didn't quit," Bassick coach John Casper said of his players.
The coach credited the Mustangs with a strong effort. "They run a good system. They have some good hitters. What they did much better than us is they earned their own points with their kills."
Despite the fact the Lions had more unforced errors than the Mustangs, the Warde coach and players saw a need to make some improvements. Paci wants his team to hit better, and Gallati is looking for perfection in the passing game.
"We can definitely work on making more of our passes more perfect and right to our setter so we can get more of those kills," Gallati said.
The Mustangs, following matches with Wilton and Trumbull, will face a tough mini-stretch with contests against always dominant Darien and cross-town rival Fairfield Ludlowe.
"This is our big push for FCIACs right now," said Paci, adding that the Mustangs are striving to lock up a playoff spot and a high seed.