GUILFORD — Woodland’s quest for a second volleyball state title came to an end in straight sets at the hands of Waterford.
The No. 1 seed and NVL champion Hawks fell, 3-0 (26-24, 25-13, 25-15), to No. 4 Waterford Wednesday in the Class M semifinals.
The Hawks (21-3) struggled throughout the match to play with consistency, a quality they often displayed in great amounts this season.
“We couldn’t seem to get any aspect of our game consistent,” Woodland head coach Jim Amato said.
Both teams struggled early to establish dominance.
The Hawks stayed on their feet and pushed the issue on Waterford in the first set thanks to the consistent serving of junior Maddie Hupprich and aggressive attacking by outside hitters McKenna Cronin (3 kills) and Samantha White (6 kills). But the unrelenting defense of Waterford (21-5) libero Jillian Sykora paired with a determined and resilient effort by the Lancers ultimately turned the tide as Waterford outlasted Woodland in set one.
Unable to establish a solid serve receive, Woodland trailed 7-1 early in game two. It was a deficit the Hawks could not overcome. Waterford consistently hit the ball in deep on serves and their hitters found the holes in Woodland’s defense.
“We got way out of pacing and their speed in attack was different than what we’ve seen and I think that threw off our momentum,” Amato said.
Game three was a nail-biter for Woodland fans. White used her dominant jump serve to tie the score at 4-4 early in the match. Cronin powered through with attacks in the back row as White’s hits began breaking through Waterford’s blocks.
However, Waterford’s defense refused to power down as the end of the game approached.
The Lancers’ consistency and communication provided their hitters with numerous opportunities at the net. With Mickayla Shelburn (12 kills) hitting from outside and Haley Taylor (6 kills, 3 blocks) attacking off of a quick set in middle, the Lancers took the match to advance to the finals on Saturday.
Heading into the match, the Lancers knew they would have their hands full with the top-seeded Hawks.
“We like to say we were optimistic,” Waterford head coach Beau Lucas said. “But we were also prepared to play a good team.”
Woodland senior captain Jenna Boncal said the team didn’t play as cohesively as it had in previous games.
“We always play really well together but tonight the communication was off and we didn’t play to our fullest,” Boncal said.
Amato said Lucas had the Lancers prepared to play.
“That’s a well-coached team. He had them ready to play,” Amato said. “They were calm and confident.”
The same could be said about Amato’s Hawks, who reached their fourth straight semifinals, won an NVL title this year and have one proud coach.
“I am a lucky coach, a proud one at that. When this season started we marked Nov. 21 on the calendar as the goal,” Amato said. “And while we got closer than 120 teams this season, what we did was build one of the finest teams in Woodland history, and you can’t beat that.”