ANSONIA – Woodland can party like it’s 2007 all over again.
For the second time in three years, the Hawks spikers are Naugatuck Valley League champions, as the Black and Gold beat top-seeded Kennedy, 3-1 (25-16, 27-25, 9-25, 26-24), in Thursday’s title game at Ansonia High.
After dominating the first game, the Hawks trailed by as many as six points late in game two. But Woodland steadily climbed out of the deficit and eventually took a 23-22 lead on the strength of senior Steph Badale’s five-point service run. The teams traded the next six points, each facing a game point at one point, until an epic rally featuring 25 exchanges of the ball ended when Badale found the center of the Kennedy floor for the kill.
“We just stayed up and didn’t give in,” said senior Emily Hutvagner, who led the Hawks with 13 kills.
“We played to win and not to lose,” added senior Erika Barnett, who also tallied 10 kills. “All we did was communicate, cover, and close.”
Woodland suffered through a dreadful third game filled with errors. The Hawks managed just nine points and could not seem to get the ball over the net often. Kennedy went on spurts of five, six, and seven points en route to a 25-9 victory.
“We got tight,” Woodland head coach Jim Amato said. “I think the weight of the match fell upon us. We made one error, and that led to another on top of that and they kept building on each other. Our bench went out there and tried to help them out and did the best they could do.”
The Eagles used their momentum to keep the fourth game close throughout, as neither team mounted a lead of more than four points. With the score tied at 20, Kennedy committed two errors, and Woodland senior Kaiti Lembo followed with a kill tucked in the back corner of the court to give her squad a 23-20 lead.
The Hawks then gained three championship points after the teams traded errors, but Kennedy stormed back to tie the game at 24. Amato called a timeout to regroup, and without wasting time, Lembo struck another kill to set up Woodland’s fourth game point. Four times was the charm for the Hawks, as another long rally ended with a Badale kill along the left sideline to seal the title for the Black and Gold.
“I have complete faith in the girls, win, lose, or draw,” Amato said. “Every time the ball is in the air, I know they want to play it.”
Two Hawks made the all-tournament team, including Badale and fellow senior Kate Frenette, who made an incredible 30 digs in the match. Junior Jess Patrizi was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after recording 30 assists, 19 digs, and three aces in the championship.
Woodland will kick off Class M state tournament play next week. Pairings will be announced Friday afternoon. Amato’s goal for the tourney is simple:
“[Get to the state finals on] November 21.”