Ludlowe volleyball ends solid season in LL semifinals
They had won the opening set from the team with 16 CIAC championship banners hanging on the walls of its gym down in Darien, the team that everyone strives to beat. And as electric as that was for the Ludlowe girls' volleyball team, taking Game 1 of the Class LL tournament semifinals, that's when the power suddenly went out.
One would think that the Falcons would have taken that momentum, climbed on top of it like a surfboard and ridden it to an upset win over the 16-time state champion Blue Wave. Instead, Darien rebounded and played like a champion should while Ludlowe lost its confidence and never recovered in a season-ending four-game loss.
After Ludlowe had played perhaps its best game all season long in winning 25-23, Darien flexed its muscles and took the game right at the Falcons, who fell behind right from the start over the final three games and couldn't find the poise needed to stop the Blue Wave's tidal wave of momentum.
"Oh, I'm not surprised, you expect that from teams like Darien," Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. "You can never be on your heels and that's what happened to us. Our passing went down the tubes and they had excellent serves and we just couldn't recover."
Darien won the next three games 25-16, 25-13 and 25-16 to reach the Class LL finals (the Blue Wave then defeated Cheshire to capture its 17th state title).
"Darien was flawless over the last three games and we didn't rise to the occasion. I attribute almost all of it to the mental game. As soon as you lose your confidence in that serve-receive position, it's almost impossible to get it back," Skelton said. "That's what went wrong. They were impeccable with all their play, so we couldn't have all those mistakes."
Especially on the serve. The Falcons once again struggled with serving against Darien, winning just 23 service points in four games, the second lowest serving total all season. The lowest? 16 service points in a straight-set loss to the Blue Wave on September 19.
When the two teams met again for the FCIAC tournament championship on November 1, even though Darien won, the match was much closer with Ludlowe becoming the first state team all season to push each set into the 20's, losing 25-22, 25-23 and 25-20.
Throughout the season, Ludlowe was led by its six seniors, April Cooke, Liz Buckley, Keki Cardenas, Olivia Auray, Andrea Alvarez and Caitlin Sprinkle. Each player had her own unique talents to lead the Falcons.
"April's always been our silent leader, do by example," Skelton said. "You need those type of players. She's put up a tremendous amount of points for us this year. She's always been consistent and we've been able to rely on her.
"Keki is a huge player for us. She's hits it so incredibly hard. She really brings that momentum and that fire to the rest of the girls. She's a very vocal leader, she's knows how to keep it relaxed but intense at the same time and all the girls just love being around her.
"Oliva is my unsung hero. An incredible athlete. Most people who don't know a lot about volleyball would overlook her but she does all the dirty work. She passes so spectacularly on defense, her hits, her serving, she's one of the best all around players we've ever had in this program.
"Liz is our defensive specialist. She's got great leadership skills. She's so vocal and on board with every initiative that the girls have brought throughout the year and. She's centering our team and making sure that we're on board and working toward the same goals.
"Andrea is my setter. She's probably had the most growth over the four years. She is such a fantastic, passionate player to coach. She's so excited about every aspect of her game. It's fun to watch her. Her talent is incredible.
"And Caitlin, she's just fantastic. She's brings that pep to the program. She's looks like she's having so much fun out there and been such a pleasure to see her grown and to see her come into her own. She's very passionate and you can tell that she loves the sport and she's just having the time of her life when she's out there."
The Falcons finished with a 20-4 record -- three losses at the hands of Darien -- reached the FCIAC tournament championship and the CIAC Class LL semifinals.
"It's a very good season, again, focusing on the positives," Skelton said. "A lot of be proud of. This senior class that I've had is just ... gosh, a coach's gift and I'm really going to miss them. I'm so proud of everything that they've done."