Nighthawk Volleyball Team Aces Covid-Altered Season Test With Run To Championship
In a season that was anything but perfect, Newtown High School's girls' volleyball team was exactly that — unbeaten, going 14-0 on the way to the South-West Conference North Division championship.
The top-seeded Nighthawks defeated the No. 2 New Milford Green Wave 3-1 (25-8, 25-17, 24-26, 25-22) at home in the November 13 title match.
Back when the coronavirus-altered season that almost did not start at all got underway a few weeks late, high school teams were hoping for some good luck to get through it all. Fittingly, it ended on Friday the 13th.
Sarah Nowacki compiled 20 kills to go along with five digs; Keyera Smith had four aces, six kills, and seven digs; Amanda Araujo logged seven kills; Chloe O'Connell had ten digs; and Grace Miller had four kills.
After winning game one with relative ease, Newtown was pushed hard by the Green Wave in game two. Smith had a trio of aces as part of a 5-0 run that saw Newtown claim a 23-15 lead. Back-to-back kills by Miller and Nowacki ended the game.
Newtown jumped out to a 7-2 lead in game three. A Maddie Patrick block led to Araujo's kill to cap a 6-0 run for that early five-point advantage. The Wave battled back and erased a late-game deficit of 24-20, surviving match point elimination to the tune of six unanswered to end it and extend the match.
Game four was ultra tight to start. Nowacki's kill pushed Newtown's lead to 14-10. A diving save by Smith and dig by Chloe O'Connell led to another Nowacki point to make it a 15-10 game. Nowacki followed that up with yet another kill for a six-point bulge, then answered the next two Wave points with kills to keep some distance between the teams.
Araujo's cross-court smash, set up by Maggie McInerney's over the back set, gave the Nighthawks a 19-12 lead. Down the stretch, a diving play by Smith led to a point, Araujo's block at the net accounted for another, and Araujo added kill for a 24-20 lead. The match ended on a New Milford service error.
Kate Petersen, Shannon Muckell, Delia Clouden, and Zosia Teraszkiewicz all made contributions with strong serves, defensive plays, or hits at the net.
"It felt great. It was a fun night. We played against a great team — to win is even better," said Newtown Coach Tom Czaplinski, adding that with everything that is going on it was all the more special to be able to accomplish what the Nighthawks did.
Team chemistry was one of Newtown's strong points throughout the fall.
"The girls were all pulling for each other. It didn't matter who was playing and who was sitting," Czaplinski said.
Although it may have been disappointing for the Nighthawks not to get a chance to face rival Joel Barlow of Redding, just completing a season was rewarding enough for Czaplinski's team members this time around under the circumstances.
There was talk of canceling volleyball even after the already-postponed outdoor fall sports and girls' swimming were given the go-ahead by state officials. Then came implementation of mask wearing at all times during matches, and that turned out not to be a problem.
"To be able to have a season is something they will always remember," the coach said. "To be able to finish the season is something a lot of us didn't even think would happen."
"Our team chemistry was so good. I'm so happy we got to finish our season this way," Nowacki said.