A different year brought the same opponent and same result but a different level of competitiveness Thursday night when No. 1 seed Cheshire and No. 5 Fairfield Ludlowe sought a berth in the CIAC Class LL girls volleyball state finals in their semifinal at Trumbull High School. Cheshire reached the championship game again by defeating Ludlowe, but this time it was in straight sets, a year after the Rams beat the Falcons in five games.

Cheshire, which will meet No. 2 Staples on Saturday at Berlin High School for the state championship, defeated Ludlowe in Thursday's Final Four matchup by 25-11, 25-21 and 25-13. The Rams, who improved to 26-0 and whose last loss was the 2012 final to Darien, were rarely on the defensive on Thursday. At times, they were flawless, dominating the action, except for the second game and early on in the Game 3. Their defense was consistent, and their hitting was more than reliable.

The Falcons, who ended their season by failing to get past two tournament semifinals, finished at 19-4.

"They had nerves, and unfortunately they were unable to shake that," Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said about the Falcons. "You cannot do that in the semifinals. You've got to come out confident and strong. Unfortunatley, we did not do that." Cheshire did.

"Cheshire did a great job -- they did not have that mental game (that we did). They played a great game," Skelton said.

The Rams scored Game 1's first two points before Falcons captain and libero Corrinne Lang came up with an acrobatic kills while she was falling backward. That cut Ludlowe's deficit to 2-1. But it was 8-2 Cheshire in a jiff, and Skelton called time out. That break did not switch momentum to the Falcons, but merely slowed the Rams' charge. Cheshire outscored Ludlowe by 11-5 over that next stretch for a 19-7 lead. No serious comeback bid materialized for the Falcons as the Rams won the first game.

Game 2 featured two leads for Ludlowe (7-6 and 9-8) after a quick 3-0 lead by the Rams. A tie at 11-11 turned into 17-14 advantage for Cheshire before a Falcons' rally cut their deficit to 18-17. But Eva Whelan responded for the Rams with a kill, then Ludlowe was guilty of a violation, and Cheshire had a 20-17 cushion. The Rams rattled off three unanswered points -- despite a Falcons' timeout after the first point -- and it was 23-17.

Ludlowe's attempt to tie the match at one win apiece failed.

The Falcons had leads of 6-5, 8-7 and 11-10 in the third game, then Ludlowe's rally stalled again. Some of it was uncharacteristic play by the Falcons; some of it was Cheshire showing its strength.

"We're really balanced this year," said Cheshire coach Sue Bavone. "We have a lot of players who contribute. Our defenders are keeping every ball in play. We felt we had to come out strong early in the first game. We did a great job of serving today. We knew they liked to hit the ball in the middle. The last game started to have hitting errors by them. They `errored' quite a bit. But I'd like to think we forced that. We tried to keep the pressure on them.

"They got a taste of it last year (losing in the finals," Bavone said of her returning players. "And they wanted to get back and try to redeem that. Our goal was to get back to the championships, not to go undefeated. Going undefeated is just a bonus."

Skelton spoke to her team after the loss about not having a sour taste from how the season ended. "I told them to remember all the positives that happened."

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Class LL girls volleyball semifinal


CHESHIRE 25 25 25--3

Records: Fairfield Ludlowe 19-4, Cheshire 26-0. Highlights: FL--Casey Boatwright had nine kills, five blocks, four service points and three aces. Pauline Blatt had nine assists, four digs and four blocks. Corrinne Lang had 21 digs, six service points and two kills. C--Sarah Rodgers had 14 assists and six digs. Jillian Haberli had nine kills, six digs and two blocks. Laura Heynen had five digs, four assists, four aces and three kills.