Volleyball Notebook: Ludlowe Falcons soaring in FCIAC
Four years ago, the Ludlowe girls volleyball team won the CIAC Class LL championship. The next season, the Falcons started anew with a fresh crop of young sophomore stars who were learning on the job.
Those players are now seniors and the results, to this point, have been perfect.
Ludlowe is off to a 10-0 start which includes wins over a few FCIAC contenders, including defending league champ Trumbull.
As Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton pointed out, the Falcons are anything but an overnight success.
“This has been a team in the making and that’s why I played them at young ages,” Skelton, now in her 14th year with the Falcons, said. “I had a lot of sophomore starting a couple of years ago, and then juniors last year. So we’ve been really working up to this year and it’s been a lot of planning and a lot of hard work. We’re really excited to see it all coming to fruition.”
Ludlowe’s depth is apparent with one look at its stats for the season. Five players have at least 56 kills, led by senior Jackie Soderland’s 82; five players have at least 44 digs, led by senior Margaret Nolan’s 81; and three have more than 20 blocks apiece.
Senior setter Kaitlyn Yoon, who has 232 assists, can really go anywhere and find a great hitter.
“What’s so fantastic about this year is everybody is contributing,” Skelton said. “I’ve got 14 girls who are phenomenal and they would all be starters in any high school program in Connecticut. I’ve been so lucky that it’s a collective effort and I could name every single girl on the team as someone who has stepped up.”
Ludlowe is led by its three co-captains, all seniors: OH Jo Blanco (78 kills, 59 digs, 14 blocks), MB Amy Lumaj (68 kills, 33 blocks), and Nolan (77 kills, 81 digs, 31 aces).
Blanco is in her second year as a team captain.
“Jo is a returning captain, so she brings that confidence and air about her,” Skelton said. “She’s a very good player and she brings a nice calm presence to the team. People really thrive off of that.”
Both Nolan and Lumaj have stepped up as leaders.
“Margaret is very intense, kind of like our firecracker on the court, getting the team fired up and making sure that everyone’s focused and prepared,” Skelton said. “Amy, the middle, has an intense energy to her as well, and people are always getting amped up for her big plays. She has a tremendous block and a really good shot.” Ludlowe has also received contributions from Senior Maddie Corbett, a 6-foot-2 hitter who plays the right side, along with defensive specialists Emma Davies, a senior, and Allie Clark, a junior, and libero Karina Henrich, yet another senior.
The Falcons had a gut-check moment on Saturday when they dropped the first two sets to New Canaan before rallying for a five-set win, 22-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-21, 15-7.
“We had to wake up,” Skelton said. “The girls came in and had a slow start. They had a couple of players who were making really good plays and catching us off guard. Once we got their tempo and got into our position, we were ready to go and we were able to win it handily.”
The road to 10-0 hasn’t been easy, and the trip only gets tougher from here on out. The Falcons play at town rival Warde at 6:30 p.m., Friday, kicking off a stretch of five matches which includes SWC power Newtown, and FCIAC contenders Darien, St. Joseph, and Westhill. They also have a date with top-ranked Greenwich in the final match of the regular season on Nov. 1.
“From here on out, it’s giddy-up time,” Skelton said. “We’ve been preparing for this and we’re ready for this. It’s really focusing on our volleyball. We’re brilliant at the basics and we don’t need to do too much — just play our game, play consistent, and have fun.”
GUILFORD BREAKS THROUGH
The SCC has featured some of the most competitive volleyball matches in the state the past few years, but at the end of the season, it’s almost always been Cheshire and Amity as the two teams left standing.
Guilford could be ready to break that stranglehold.
The Indians swept through a difficult week with shutout wins over Cheshire, Shelton and Amity and are the SCC’s last remaining undefeated team at 11-0. They’ll face each one of those contenders one more time in October, but have put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for the league’s No. 1 seed.
This may not be a one-and-done deal for Guilford either.
The Indians boast a strong group of juniors, led by outside hitter Emma Appleman and libero Juliet Young. Appleman, an All-State second team player last year, has a team-best 123 kills to go along with 60 digs and 26 aces, while Young leads the team with 124 digs and 32 aces.
The play of those two has helped everyone else elevate their game.
“Honestly, we have two superstars,” Guilford coach Laura Anastasio said. “(I) don’t know other teams, but the way they play make the other four girls on the court play better.”
That group includes junior middle Emily Brouder (74 kills, 53 digs, 18 blocks), junior OH Carson Habower (47 kills), senior MH Sabrina Zuniga (10 blocks), and senior setter Eva Ott Hill (214 assists).
Guilford has played great defense this season, which has helped it overwhelm opponents.
“Always one of our strengths has been keeping the ball in the air,” Anastasio said. “Juliet Young makes Matrix-like plays from her libero position. When her teammates see that, they go after it the same way and get the ball to our front row.”
Guilford will again face Cheshire (9-1), which has won the last two SCC titles and has reached the league final in eight consecutive years, on Oct. 21 at Cheshire, kicking off a tough finish.
The Indians host Shelton and Amity, and play at East Lyme during a four-day span to close out the regular season.
The fall sports season is reaching its halfway point and there are 11 girls volleyball teams which remain undefeated.
In Class LL, Greenwich, the No. 1 ranked team in the State Coaches Poll, is 11-0 and has only dropped four sets, two of which came in a 3-2 win over Darien on Sept. 20.
Ludlowe, which rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat New Canaan in five on Saturday, and New Milford, which won a five-setter from Pomperaug last Wednesday, are each 10-0.
Class L has four unbeaten teams, with SCC leader Guilford headlining that group at 11-0. The Indians dropped one set in a win over East Lyme on opening day and have since pitched 10 straight shutouts.
Naugatuck is also 11-0 after winning three last week, including a 3-1 decision over Woodland on Friday; Bristol Eastern is 10-0 after surviving Bristol Central in five sets Tuesday; and RHAM is 9-0.
In Class M, Seymour and Prince Tech are both 11-0. Prince Tech took a 3-2 decision on Tuesday, handing Aerospace its first loss of the season, while Seymour has yet to drop a set.
Coventry, which is 10-0 in Class S, edged Woodstock Academy 3-2 in its opener and has since dropped just two sets. SMSA is a perfect 9-0 with nine consecutive shutouts.