eschickler@bcnnew.com

For the first time since 2004, the Weston girls volleyball team advanced past the second round of states. Seventh-seeded Weston advanced to the Class M quarterfinals on Tuesday with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-11, 25-14) home victory over 10th-seeded Northwestern Regional.

"We made little mistakes in the beginning, cleaned them up and capitalized on their mistakes," said Lady Trojans coach Jamie Charles. "It's exciting because the girls love to play and it's nice they have the opportunity."

Weston raised its record to 17-3 and play at second-seeded Sacred Heart Academy (19-2) today at 7 p.m. The Lady Highlanders ended their season at 15-5.

One obstacle the Lady Trojans faced was the ankle injury of sophomore Lili Clement, who is an all-around player. With Clement in the lineup, senior captain Julia Robinson and junior back row player Haylee Winikoff alternate with each other. In this new alignment, junior Sammy Fino relieved Robinson when her position reached the front row and senior Khadija Lalani took over for the lefty Winikoff when her position moved to the front row.

"We had to work around Lili's injury and everyone stepped it up, which was fun to watch," said Charles.

Weston senior captain Anja Nickel said, "We missed Lili but everyone stepped it up. Julia [who normally plays at middle hitter] did a nice job at outside hitter and Khadija did a good job at middle hitter."

Based on the first game, it looked like it was going to be a tight match. Overall, there were 13 ties and seven lead changes in the opener. Northwestern opened the game with a 6-2 lead. Lady Trojan junior Christina Welsh (seven service points, two aces, two blocks, seven digs, six kills, one assist) was a defensive stalwart all night and her dig led to a Lady Highlander error and a sideout.

"I tried to stay on my feet and read the hitters' shoulders," said Welsh.

Senior captain Brittany Swanson gave Weston its first lead at 7-6 by serving four straight points.

Northwestern's last lead was 16-15, which disappeared when freshman Hannah Ashmore's tip kill from Swanson tied it. There were three more ties after it, the last one at 21-21 after 6-2 senior middle hitter Meredith Clarke tied it with two service points, the last one an ace.

Lalani (one kill, one dig) forced an error to give the Lady Trojans the lead for good and Welsh closed the game with two service points and opened up the second game with four service points, the first two on aces to set the tone.

"I was trying to get good contact on the ball and serve it deep," said Welsh.

Swanson proficiently ran the offense and was poised when setting up Nickel, Robinson, Welsh, Lalani and Ashmore.

"I had some very good passes, which helped a lot," said Swanson.

Nickel was dominant as a hitter, beating the Lady Highlanders with slams and tips.

"Brittany had her sets down," said Nickel. "If her sets weren't perfect, I wouldn't have hit as well as I did."

Welsh had a reverse kill to make it 23-11.

"I tried to get my timing down and hit it as hard as I could," said Welsh.

Nickel (10 service points, five aces, 12 kills, eight digs) effectively placed her serves and closed the game with two service aces, one that hit Lady Highlander senior Larysa Szafran.

"We've been practicing our serves and I've been more relaxed than in the beginning of the match," said Nickel. "I was hitting my spots and I was lucky it went through her hands."

Ashmore (eight service points, two aces, three digs, five kills, one assist) served four straight points, the first two on aces, to give the Lady Trojans a 6-1 lead in the third game.

"I practiced my serves a lot and I was relaxed when they blew the whistle," said Ashmore.

Robinson (five service points, two aces, two digs, three kills) was solid and the southpaw Winikoff (three service points, three digs), who normally doesn't serve, was accurate in her placement and helped on defense. Fino (two digs) did well defensively as well.

"We work so hard and I'm proud of the team," said Swanson.

Nickel said, "We worked hard all season and get along, which plays a huge part in our success. I think we'll go all the way."