BEACON FALLS — They logged some miles, chased some demons, and relied on some bench players — and it earned the Hawks a berth in the state volleyball semifinals.
The No. 12-seeded Woodland volleyball team reached the fourth state semifinal in program history last week by rallying to defeat No. 5 Waterford in a 3-2 second-round thriller and sweeping No. 13 Montville in a quarterfinal home match.
“It’s awesome,” Woodland coach Jim Amato said. “Getting back to the semis the way we did, by having to travel to Waterford and then back to the home match, it makes it a little sweeter that way.”
Woodland (18-6) will face top-seeded Seymour (22-1) in the Class M semifinals Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Pomperaug High School in Southbury. The winner earns a spot in the Class M final Saturday at 4 p.m. at East Haven High.
After a shaky end to the regular season and a semifinal exit in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament, Woodland regrouped to make a state tournament run. The Hawks dominated No. 21 Kaynor Tech, 3-0, in the first round Nov. 5 before trekking out to old nemesis Waterford.
The Lancers had dispatched the Hawks from the state tournament twice in the last three years — a semifinal sweep in 2015 and a first-round heartbreaker last season. In the 2017 Class M first round, Waterford rallied from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 victory. In this year’s second-round matchup, the Lancers appeared set to coast into the quarterfinals with a 2-0 lead.
But Woodland began a rally in the third game and fought to extend the match to a fifth game. In that stanza, the Hawks coasted and eventually earned a 3-2 (20-25, 15-25, 25-18, 25-17, 15-7) victory.
“Our communication wasn’t there during the first two sets, but we started talking a lot in the last three,” Woodland’s Alyssa Lukeski told the Hawk Headlines’ Jessica Vardon. “If a mistake was made, we just shook it off and got the next point, which helped us not get in our heads.”
“We wanted redemption and nothing was going to stop us from getting it,” Woodland’s Steph Krebbs also told the school’s journalism website. “My freshman year we lost (to Waterford) in the semifinals, so I wanted it even more. I wasn’t going to let them beat us three times.”
The comeback victory over Waterford boosted the Hawks’ already growing confidence entering the quarterfinal matchup with Montville, a regular-season rival of the Lancers.
“The fact that we pulled ourselves out of a rut that big at such a crucial time was incredible and gave us a sense (that) anything is possible,” the Hawks’ Lexie Chabot told the Hawk Headlines. “Like Coach (Amato) says, ‘It’s anyone, anywhere, anytime.’”
Woodland fought off a pesky Montville squad, needing extra points in the second and third games to pull away for a 3-0 (25-15, 28-26, 26-24) win.
In the second-round and quarterfinal matches, Amato pointed to the importance of his team’s bench players.
“The play that we get off the bench has really been the difference in this run,” Amato said. “(In the second round), Layne Cronin came in off the bench and helped hold down the back row, and (in the quarterfinals) we had Liz Triana and Xiu Xiu Sammis-McCoy step on the floor and help change the game.”
Sammis-McCoy led Woodland in the win over Montville with 14 digs, while Chabot tallied 14 kills and Krebbs added 10.
The Hawks were looking forward to staying in the underdog role when it faced Seymour in the state semifinals. The Wildcats earned 3-2 and 3-0 wins over Woodland during the regular season.
“We’ve definitely been looked at as the underdogs, so being able to put out everything we’ve worked for is a great feeling,” Woodland setter Fatima Khalid told the Hawk Headlines. “We know we deserve the state champs title more than anyone because of how hard we work every day.”
Naugatuck exits early: The No. 15-seeded Naugatuck volleyball team suffered a premature exit from the Class L tournament, suffering a 3-2 loss to No. 18 East Haven in first-round action Nov. 5 in the borough.
The game scores were 18-25, 25-20, 25-16, 18-25, and 15-10. The Greyhounds finished with a 14-8 record after first-round exits in both the NVL and Class L tournaments.