By Elio Gugliotti, Editor
NAUGATUCK — With a core of nine experienced seniors, it’s no accident that the Naugatuck volleyball team staked its claim in the upper echelon of the Naugatuck Valley League halfway through the regular season.
“With the experience we had coming back, I expected to have a strong showing in the NVL and postseason play,” head coach Kevin Wesche said. “Our biggest obstacle to overcome is our lack of height. What we don’t have in height, we make up for in athleticism and certainly the intensity of play.”
“They still are keeping it real and have each other’s back,” he added about where his team stands halfway through the season. “I appreciate the fact that they come every single day no matter what and want to perform at their best.”
At the moment the team’s senior core is down to seven players — Juliana Sarbieski, Nadia Cestari, Kaylee Jackson, Samantha Mullin, Mia Grella, Kendall Allen and Tiffany Nguyen — as Wesche awaits the return of Cadence Hofmann and Felicia Salvati from injury.
The Greyhounds displayed their intensity in a bounce-back win over Oxford Oct. 7. Naugatuck topped the Wolverines 3-0 (25-10, 25-17, 25-20).
The senior core led the way.
Cestari had 13 points and 20 assists, Jackson had seven points and 12 kills, and Allen tallied 13 points and eight kills. Mullin scored nine points to go along with three aces, Nguyen had four points and four digs, Grella had nine kills, and Sarbieski added three digs.
The win came two days after the Greyhounds dropped their first NVL match — a 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-20) loss at undefeated Seymour.
Naugatuck jumped out to an 11-1 lead in the first set before the Wildcats rallied to sweep the match. Allen paced Naugatuck with 12 kills, nine digs and three aces. Jackson added eight kills and six digs.
Wesche said the team made a few uncharacteristic unforced errors that were the difference in the game.
He said the Greyhounds will use the match against the Wildcats, who he described as a quick, athletic group with height all around, as a learning experience. He said the match showed the Greyhounds need to work on their coverage at the net and across the court when facing bigger hitters.
“It showed us few things we need to work on, and the girls are willing to come in and work hard and move on from there,” he said. “We look back as a learning point and look forward as an opportunity to improve.”
The Greyhounds started the latter half of their schedule with a 3-0 (25-6, 25-11, 25-10) win over Waterbury Career Oct. 8 to improve to 10-2 overall and 9-1 in the NVL.
Allen had 13 points and 13 kills, Jackson had 12 kills and four digs, and Cestari had 11 points, and 22 assists to lead Naugy. Nyguyen had 12 points, Grella added six kills, and Sarbieski scored seven points.
Naugatuck is set to face Kennedy Oct. 12, Holy Cross Oct. 14 and Crosby Oct. 15.
Looking ahead, Wesche said the plan for the rest of the season is simple.
“To continue to improve,” he said. “To be better today than we we’re yesterday and hopefully be prepared for tomorrow.”