The loss of six players from last year’s squad certainly hasn’t slowed this year’s Newtown High School girls’ volleyball team. In fact, the Nighthawks have gone deeper in the conference tournament than they did a year ago.
Newtown, the No. 2 seed in the South-West Conference Tournament, reached the tourney’s deciding match with wins over No. 7 Brookfield and No. 3 Bunnell of Stratford this week. The Hawks will take on top-seeded and defending conference champion Joel Barlow of Redding, the only SWC team to defeat them this season, in the pinnacle match on Saturday, November 2. The teams will square off at Weston High School at 7 pm.
“It feels great — I think we’ve exceeded expectations,” said Newtown Coach Tom Czaplinski, alluding to the emergence of newcomers and returnees who stepped into prominent roles on the team this fall.
Newtown was the host school for the semifinals and the Hawks gave the home fans plenty to cheer about in a hard-fought 3-2 (25-18, 24-26, 21-25, 25-19, 15-12) win over the Bulldogs. The match featured 31 ties and numerous momentum shifts and lead changes.
“Our serving is what got us that win, I think,” said Czaplinski, adding that the Bulldogs played great defensively to make the Nighthawks work hard for their points.
In the triumph, Cassie Ekstrom compiled 35 digs, 18 kills, and a trio of serving aces; Kyle Dandrea had 28 digs and 15 kills, Kayla O’Grady had ten kills and four aces; and Meghan Logan racked up 47 assists and 17 digs.
Dandrea’s ace staked Newtown to an 8-7 lead in the decisive game, and the Hawks didn’t let go of that advantage the rest of the way, despite the Bulldogs keeping things very close. Mylis Post came up with some clutch serves, including a pair of line-drive aces that grazed the top of the net, in the final game of the match.
Pushed to the brink after Bunnell’s game three win, Newtown had to dig deep in the fourth game. The Hawks had no bigger than a two-point lead until an Ekstrom kill made it 20-17. Mackenzie Lapp followed with an ace for a 21-17 cushion. A couple of points created by O’Grady and a kill by Ekstrom set the stage for Ekstrom to end the game with an ace.
The Hawks topped visiting Brookfield 3-1 (23-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-21) in the SWC quarterfinals on October 28. Lapp had six aces and three kills, Dandrea compiled 12 kills and 16 digs, O’Grady had eight kills to go along with four aces, and Logan had 30 assists and 13 digs.