For every diving dig, timely block, or booming kill Newtown High School’s girls’ volleyball team came up with, Joel Barlow’s lineup had an answer — and then some.
The now seven-time South-West Conference champion and top-seeded Falcons got pushed hard by the second-seeded Nighthawks in the November 3 conference championship match, at neutral site Weston High, but the Falcons prevailed 3-1 (25-21, 25-20, 21-25, 25-13).
Barlow has beaten Newtown in the finals three straight years.
Newtown accumulated 65 digs, led by 18 from Natalie Horn, 16 from Jackie Moccio, and 14 from Kim Buttery. Mollie Goudy had nine digs, and Hannah Groonell added six for the Nighthawks.
All of that defense, including some extraordinary diving efforts, was enough to keep rallies going, but what seemed to be sure points were kept alive by Newtown’s counterparts time and time again.
“I think they changed up their defense a little bit. They were everywhere,” said Buttery, whose team split a pair of five-setters with the Falcons during the regular season, including handing Barlow its only loss of 2018 late in the slate.
Riley Paradise led Barlow’s 70-plus dig effort with 21.
Neither team had tremendous immediate success serving; Barlow had seven aces and the Nighthawks had five.
Championship MVP Kiara Robichaud led all players with 29 kills. That was two more than all of the Nighthawks combined. Genevieve Murray had seven, and Erin Mitchell added six of Newtown’s 27 kills.
The Falcons blocked numerous Nighthawk spikes at the net.
Newtown hung close in each of the first two games, making Barlow work for points and lengthening rallies until the Falcons made mistakes for many of its points. The Hawks extended the match with the game three victory before Barlow seized control in game four.
Newtown jumped out to a 3-0 lead in game one and led 11-9 before Barlow scored three in a row and never trailed again until set number two.
A diving save by Buttery (Newtown’s setter who accumulated 27 assists) led to a point for a 6-4 advantage. Murray answered a Barlow point with a kill, and one stoppage later it was 8-5 Nighthawks. Barlow went on a 5-1 run for 10-9 lead and led the rest of the way in game two.
A Natalie Horn kill ended a 5-0 Barlow run, making it 20-15. The Hawks got as close as 22-19, but the Falcons finished with three of the last four points.
The Falcons appeared poised to sweep by jumping out to a 6-1 lead in game three. Newtown chipped away and went ahead 8-7 on a Falcon hit into the net. Buttery followed with an ace for a two-point edge.
After Barlow tied it, the Hawks went back in front and Horn’s cross-court kill made it 13-10. The Falcons tied things at 13 apiece before falling behind on a wide shot.
A kill by Mitchell gave Newtown its biggest lead of the set at 18-14. The Falcons closed to within two at 20-18 but a block by Groonell and timely spikes by Veronica Kroha and Horn, whose kill won the game, forced Barlow to play a bit longer.
In game four, the Falcons claimed a 10-4 lead. The Nighthawks sliced the deficit in half behind kills by Murray and Buttery, making it 10-7, but Barlow answered with six unanswered points en route to the close out.
The teams had some great rallies showing why they were the top squads in the conference, and have been in recent years.
Newtown continued its success with a new-look roster following the graduation of most of last year’s starters and regulars.
“We lacked confidence and needed to put more effort into the match,” said Moccio, adding that with some hard work, the Hawks can have success in the state playoffs.
“It was a fun match to be a part of but we could have done better toward the end. It’s the disappointing point of the season that’s going to drive us,” Goudy added.
The Nighthawks will look to bounce back in the Class LL state tournament beginning on Monday, November 5, when fifth-seed Newtown entertains familiar SWC foe and 28 seed New Milford at 4:30 pm for a first-round match.
“We’re going to work hard so our season lasts as long as possible,” Buttery said.
“I think this loss will drive us and motivate us to work even harder and kick some butt in states,” Mitchell added.