Lady Trojan spikers survive Stratford's defense in Class M playoff win
Playoff time is a matter of survival and overcoming obstacles and that's what the 12th-seeded Weston girls volleyball team did on Monday. Weston raised its record to 14-6 advanced to the second round of the Class M playoffs with a 3-1 (25-13, 21-25, 25-18, 25-8) home victory over 21st-seeded Stratford (9-11) in the first round of the playoffs.
"Stratford was a tough team to play against," Lady Trojans Coach Jamie Charles said. "They had an effective defense and gave us more than we could handle."
Although Weston appeared to win two games by more than 10 points, the overall contest was a lot closer than the final score indicated and the match's outcome appeared to be in doubt in the third game. The Lady Red Devils made things hard for the Lady Trojans with their relentless play on defense in getting to many balls that looked like they were going to drop in. Overall, Stratford had 116 digs. Weston finished with 48 digs.
"Their defense was incredible and one of the toughest defenses we faced all year," Lady Trojan senior co-captain Christina Welsh said. "Their defense was so good at covering everything and we tried to mix it up."
Welsh (16 kills, 11 digs, 14 service points, three aces, three blocks) led the attack and pounded home many clutch kills, especially in the first game to give Weston the early momentum. She pounded home some shots to the back row and also fooled the Lady Red Devils with kills off of basketball passes.
"We tried to focus on the fundamentals, play solid volleyball and not get frustrated," Welsh said. "We tried to have many tips and roll shots."
Junior Jessy Gersh (40 assists, six service points, nine digs) proficiently ran the offense and set up Welsh and the rest of the Lady Trojans in the right position.
"Basically, I tried to remember the basics, which was to play our game and not let them get in our heads," Gersh said. "We are working on different offenses and I have to know where everyone is. I look to see where my hitters are before each point and I tell my hitters where it's going to go."
Sophomore Hannah Ashmore (12 kills, 10 digs, 11 service points, six aces, one block) served three straight points, the first two aces, in the first game, to give Weston a 5-1 lead. The Lady Trojans took off from there and broke it open when senior Sammy Fino (six service points, one ace, five digs) served five straight points to make it 17-5.
Stratford inched back but Ashmore forced an error and Welsh closed it out with a kill.
Weston took an early lead in the second game but its lead never eclipsed two points because of Stratford's defense. Seniors Renee Pettway (24 digs) and Elizabeth Rogers (20 digs, three service points, three kills) and junior Ashley Fedak (20 digs, eight service points, one ace, one kill) led Stratford's defense. Lady Red Devil senior Brittany Handahl (12 digs, six kills, one service point, one ace) had a kill, block and service ace in tying it 7-7.
However, the Lady Trojans answered with sophomore Savannah Carpenter (three kills, four digs, two assists) answered with a basketball pass kill and Ashmore followed with a block to give the hosts a 9-7 lead.
After a sideout, Pettway hit Ashmore's slam into the net on the ceiling, which looked like it should have been Weston's point. Instead, it was a do-over and Fedak took advantage with a deep service ace to tie it 9-9. Fedak served three more points to give Stratford a 12-9 lead. The Lady Trojans tied it three more times with sophomore Frances Holmes (one kill, two blocks, four digs) delivering a kill and a block and junior Lili Clement forced an error to tie it 20-20.
Junior Manushaque Nasufi broke the tie for Stratford with a block and Fedak served two points to give the Lady Red Devils a 23-20 lead. Stratford then closed out the game.
In the third game, freshman Rachel Santo served six points to give the Lady Red Devils a commanding 7-1 lead. Welsh cut the lead to four, 8-4, with two straight kills.
Clement and Welsh each had kills to make it 13-10 and Clement added two service points to make it 13-12. After Nasufi's kill made it 14-12, a Lady Red Devil error and Carpenter's kill on Ashmore's serve tied it 14-14.
"We tried to keep on our toes and be ready for anything," Welsh said.
Following a sideout, Handahl's block on junior Teanna Gordon's (13 digs, six kills, three service points, one ace) serve made it 16-14. Welsh forced a sideout with a basketball pass kill, which set the stage for the turning point in the match.
Enter Lady Trojan senior co-captain Maggie Montelli (10 service points, three aces, one dig), who tied it with a service ace. Montelli then served four more points, two more aces and two basketball pass kills by Welsh from Gersh, gave Weston a 20-16 lead.
"We've been practicing serves a lot in practice and I knew I had to stay confident and cool behind the service line," Montelli said. "I had to stay straight and follow through."
Charles said, "Maggie helped us get the momentum back in the third game."
Despite the situation, Montelli was undaunted when she stepped behind the line.
"I didn't get nervous about it because I'm in the game for a reason, which is my strong serve," Montelli said. "I was focused and concentrated on getting my serves in."
Clement (10 kills, seven service points, one ace, four digs) attacked well from the outside all night and had two straight kills from Gersh to make it 24-17.
"I finally got down my approach," Clement said. "I used to go early but I then paused and waited for the set to come close to me and I hit it down."
Ashmore forced a Nasufi error to clinch the game.
"Winning the third game was big," Charles said. "We lost the momentum in the second game. We tried hard to get the ball to drop on their side of the court. They make you play and earn every point. It's a good thing we passed free balls well because we got a lot of them tonight."
Gersh served the first three points of the fourth game. Ashmore broke it open with five straight service points, two aces, to make it 12-2.
"I took it one point at a time and saw a lot of open spots on the other side of the court and I aimed for them," Ashmore said.
Welsh's kill made it 14-4 and forced a sideout and the captain then added seven service points, two aces, which made it 21-4 and slammed the door shut on the Lady Red Devils.
Ashmore, who was a hitting force all night, had kills on Weston's final three points of the match, including two straight which made it 24-7.
"It was a matter of confidence," Ashmore said. "I tried to find the angles and stay away from their blockers."
For Welsh and the seniors, it was their final game ever in Weston's gym.
"It still hasn't hit me yet but it was surreal," Welsh said.