Upset special: Lady Wrecker spikers deck Greenwich in quarterfinals
Upsets happen at times in the state tournament. The sixth-seeded Staples girls volleyball team pulled out arguably the biggest upset of the tournament in a 3-0 (25-19, 26-24, 25-23) victory at third-seeded Greenwich on Saturday, avenging a 3-0 regular season loss at Greenwich on Oct. 26.
"When you get to the quarterfinals and semifinals of States, you don't expect to blow a team off the court," said Staples coach Bruce Betts. "The difference for us is that we cut down on the unforced errors and I told the kids to keep it simple, keep the ball in and make them play defense. Our serving was on for the most part. We put together three solid games and it was a well-played match that could have gone either way."
The Lady Wreckers raised their record to 18-4 and play second-seeded Fairfield Ludlowe (18-3) tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at Fairfield Warde. The Cardinals ended their season at 19-4.
All three games were competitive and Greenwich, who took a 4-1 lead to start the match, had many chances to win them. Staples senior Paulina Tziolis (four kills, six service points, four aces) served three points to tie it and the Lady Wreckers soon grabbed a lead. The Cardinals reclaimed the lead with senior Kate Centofanti (five kills, nine service points, seven digs, one block) serving three straight points. to go up 11-9.
Staples senior captain Jenny Johnston (nine kills, one assist, four blocks, five service points, three aces) stepped up in all facets and ended the rally with a kill.
Senior captain Eleni Tsilfides served two points to give the Lady Wreckers a 12-11 lead with her ace putting Staples in front. Hrvacic set up senior Jen Frusciante's (two kills, four blocks) kill to tie it.
Johnston's kill from classmate Zana Hrvacic gave the Lady Wreckers a 13-12 lead and the captain followed with four service points to give them a 17-12 lead.
"I tried to read where their passes were and I tried to serve low, pull it in short and serve on the line to keep them guessing," said Johnston.
Greenwich tied it 17-17 after junior Christine Lo (nine assists, 10 service points, three digs) served four straight points. Junior Kelsey Goodwin (10 kills, two service points, six digs) helped Lo with two kills on this spurt.
Tziolis gave Staples the lead for good, 19-18, when her shot grazed off a Cardinal. Senior Maddie Kalb (23 kills, two assists, six blocks, five service points, two aces) closed out the game, first by firing a kill to force a sideout and then served the final three points of the game, starting with an ace.
Survival was the name of the second game for the Lady Wreckers, who opened up with three service errors, five overall. There were 12 ties and three lead changes in the game with Staples taking its first advantage at 7-6 on Johnston's service ace. The Lady Wreckers' lead reached three, 14-11 with junior Alex Masiello (three kills, three blocks) delivering a kill from senior Suvi Puripattarapan to force a sideout. Puripattarapan (22 assists, six service points) accurately fed her hitters all night, which made it easier for the offense.
"The passing was really good from Eleni and it was easy to make the sets," said Puripattarapan. "Before the game, I worked on my hands to make sure I was ready."
After Staples tied it up at 18, the Cardinals retook the lead, 22-19. Following a Greenwich error, Puripattarapan served four points to give the Lady Wreckers a 24-22 lead.
Goodwin's kill staved off elimination and a Staples carry tied it at 24-24. However, Kalb showed why she'll be playing for Division I North Texas University next year and slammed a kill from Puripattarapan to give the Lady Wreckers a 25-24 lead.
"When I go up for the kill, I try to move it to the [No.] 1 spot [the back left hand corner]," said Kalb. "Greenwich has a good back row and gets to [almost] every ball but I saw no one was at the [No.] 1 spot and I moved it there."
Kalb then closed the game with a block.
"On the block, I saw an opening and I hoped it went in," said Kalb. "It was a team effort and everyone supported each other, which helped our momentum."
Similar to the second game, the third game was back-and-forth and it came down to big plays in the end, even though there were only six ties and three changes in it. Lo opened with three service points to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
Staples didn't overtake Greenwich until the hosts committed a hitting error with Hrvacic serving to make it 9-8. Pflug immediately countered with a block to force a sideout but Hrvacic set up Johnston's to give the Lady Wreckers the lead back at 10-9.
"Especially as a middle hitter, it's about getting a good pass and a good set," said Johnston. "Suvi and Zana are setting up the offense well and we're running plays, which gets everyone fired up."
Tsilfides (nine service points, three aces) served three straight points, one ace that bounced off the net to extend the lead to 13-9.
"If there's one thing I can control, it's my serve," said Tsilfides. "My teammates serve deep and I try to serve short to throw them off. I tried to get it in and stay focused because it's important to get it in and we can't afford unforced errors."
After the lead reached 17-13, the Cardinals started to come back. Centofanti's kill forced a sideout to make it 21-19 and she followed with four service points, three of which were aces, to give Greenwich a 23-21 lead. Goodwin had a kill for the other point.
Enter Hrvacic (two kills, 17 assists, five blocks, six service points, one ace), who set up Johnston for a tip kill to force a sideout, the first of three big plays by her. With Tsilfides serving the final points, she set up Kalb for a kill to make it 24-23.
"What we learned was to lay the ball small instead of going for the kill, when you do that, it turns out better," said Hrvacic. "I had to figure out a way to throw them off. Even though we were down and they could have won the game, we had to keep on fighting."
Although Hrvacic's sets were instrumental, her biggest play was a basketball pass kill off a return to tie it at 23.
"It was a messy play and I wanted to get it over and throw them off," said Hrvacic.
Kalb then forced an error to close out the match.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world because we worked so hard and put our all into it even though we battled the flu," said Tsilfides.
Johnston said, "That was amazing and it feels awesome to put the regular season match behind us. We had a different rotation than we had in the regular season and it worked out well. We came out fired up and weren't ready for the regular season to end."