Westhill, Ludlowe advance to FCIAC Volleyball final
FAIRFIELD — One of the wonderful traits of seniors is they understand when the end is near in their high school careers.
The eight seniors on the Westhill girls volleyball team were staring over the edge of the cliff at a possible untimely end to their FCIAC exploits.
Trumbull had just won the opening two games of Thursday night’s FCIAC playoff semifinal at the Ludlowe HS gym by 25-10 and 25-18.
The immediate future didn’t look bright for the Vikings. Once again, it appeared that Trumbull — which defeated Westhill for last year’s FCIAC Volleyball title — was turning Westhill into Napolean at Waterloo.
Time was running out for the Westhill seniors to believe.
“The opening two games we had no confidence. Trumbull was passing and hitting all over the place,” said Westhill senior hitter Betsy Sachs. “We realized we had to be the team that was putting the balls away to score. We realized this was the last chance for us. And we didn’t want to go home losing.”
So the Vikings collectively rose like a phoenix, winning the last three games by 25-18, 25-23 and 20-18 to keep their FCIAC season alive and move into Saturday’s FCIAC volleyball final.
No. 1 seed Westhill (19-3 overall) will battle No. 3 seed Ludlowe Saturday at 3 p.m. at Ludlowe gym for the 2019 FCIAC volleyball title. Ludlowe downed No. 7 seed and intracity rival Warde, 25-14, 25-14, 25-18 in Thursday’s late semifinal.
“The girls knew we weren’t playing our game. It was time to turn it on,” said Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan. “You can’t win if you are tentative on the court. After Game 3, I saw the team I know. Our captains decided ‘we are not losing tonight!’ ”
Defending FCIAC champ Trumbull is a collection of tall athletic hitters, a rotation filled with juniors and seniors including serving specialists as well as more lefty hitters and servers than the rest of the FCIAC combined.
“It does take time for teams to adapt to us,” said Trumbull coach Nicole Trommelen.
But what Westhill did most of all the last three games was match and exceed Trumbull’s aggression on the court.
“We started out strong. But we knew Westhill would have an answer,” Trumbull’s Trommelen said. “Then we just got tentative. We got in a rut where we played like we didn’t want to lose. Westhill played like they wanted to win. We knew Westhill wouldn’t quit with all those seniors.”
In Game 3, Westhill led 9-6, 17-12 and 20-15 before closing out at 25-18 to stay alive.
Game 4 seesawed from start to finish as neither side led by more than two points at any juncture.
There were six ties from 18-18 to 23-23 before a Sophia Thagouras kill and a Tamar Bellete block gave Westhill a 25-23 win and a 2-2 tie.
In Game 5, volleyball was the winner as the score was a series of one-point leads from start to Westhill’s 20-18 finish as senior Carolyn Boyd came off the bench to serve the final two points.
“Our now or never attitude just clicked in,” said Westhill senior Sophia Thagouras. “The season was on the line. Our chemistry pulled us together and got us on the same page.”
Meanwhile for Trumbull (16-4 overall), which received 47 assists from setter Ali Castro and 21 kills from junior hitter Bailey Cenatiempo, the Eagles can regroup for the upcoming Class LL state tournament.
“When you’re defending FCIAC champs, everybody wanted to beat us,” Trommelen said. “Now we will reset. We see we need to push forward. Push forward to finish off wins.”
LUDLOWE TOPS WARDE TO REACH FINALS
No. 3 Ludlowe used its height advantage on the frontline to advance to Saturday’s FCIAC final thanks to a 25-14, 25-14, 25-18 win over No. 7 Warde.
Seniors Amy Lumaj, Jackie Soderlund and Maddie Corbett combined for 27 kills and eight blocks. Setter Ava Sanborn collected 31 assists for Ludlowe. The Falcons (18-3 overall) are vying for their first FCIAC title since 2015.
“We’re excited to be in the finals. We lost to (eventual champion) Trumbull in the semifinals last year,” Ludlowe’s Lumaj said. “Our goal all season has been to go all the way.”
“Our senior group has grown so much in four years,” Soderlund said. “We wanted this chance to play in the finals. Westhill beat us in the regular season. But our mentality has grown a lot since then.”
Warde (14-7) saw its seven-match win streak end. The Mustangs were coming off an emotional 3-2 victory over No. 2 seed Greenwich in the quarterfinals.
“Our message was that we wanted to show the FCIAC our win over Greenwich wasn’t a fluke,” Warde coach Matt Narwold said. “We look forward to the challenge in the state tournament. I want the girls to remember the feeling after tonight’s loss. But to regroup and make a run in the state tournament.”
WESTHILL 3, TRUMBULL 2
TRUMBULL 25 25 18 23 18—2
WESTHILL 10 18 25 25 20—3
Records: Trumbull 16-4 overall; Westhill 19-3 overall.
Highlights: T—Ali Castro 47 assists, 20 digs, 3 aces. Bailey Cenatiempo 21 kills, 15 digs, 5 aces. Lindsay Gibbs 12 kills, 5 blocks. Ashleigh Johnson 20 digs. W—Betsy Sachs 16 kills, 7 digs. Maddy Bautista 35 digs. Sophia Thagouras 9 kills, 20 assists. Vana Servos 10 kills, 20 digs, 23 assists, 10 service points. Gloria Twum 16 digs, 6 kills. Sanjana Nayak 10 kills, 22 digs.
LUDLOWE 3, WARDE 0
WARDE 14 14 18—0
LUDLOWE 25 25 25—3
Records: Warde 14-7 overall; Ludlowe 18-3 overall.
Highlights: L—Amy Lumaj 9 kills, 2 blocks. Jackie Soderlund 11 kills, 4 blocks. Maddie Corbett 7 kills, 2 blocks. Ava Sanborn 8 service points, 9 digs, 31 assists. Margaret Nolan 16 digs.