Naugy volleyball falls in last set

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NAUGATUCK — When the Naugatuck volleyball team met Holy Cross in Waterbury for the first time this season, back at the end of September, it was the Greyhounds who came out victorious, after five sets. But Tuesday evening, after another game of five close sets, this time on Naugatuck’s home court, it was the Crusaders who ultimately managed the win.

“We were evenly-matched,” said coach Fred Scheithe. “The last time we played them, we won 3-2. This is a little bit of a payback. They stayed aggressive.”

The two teams, indeed, seemed evenly-matched. The first set was characterized by a steady Naugatuck lead, but it was clear even from the first rally that Holy Cross’s front row was a determined one. The Crusaders battled back to tie the set at 14, which only began a series of lead exchanges, extended rallies, and physical defense. The Crusaders ultimately pulled away to win the set, 22-25, only a point after an impressive ace by Darcey Case.

The second set began with strong Naugatuck defense, particularly by Stephanie Chandler. The first half of the set saw a lot of action at the net, especially as Laticia Campos attempted to penetrate Holy Cross’s solid blocking in the front row. It wasn’t until Campos moved into the serving position with a jump serve that Holy Cross simply could not handle that Naugatuck pulled away. After a barrage of aces and a Renee Augustine kill, the Greyhounds won the set, 25-15.

As the third set began, it became more and more clear that there was some miscommunication on the Holy Cross side, which was only compounded by a more confident Naugatuck offense. The Greyhounds took an early lead after a solid block by Campos, who had three blocks on the night, but it didn’t take long for the Crusaders to tie the game back up at six. The Greyhounds then went on to score four unanswered points until the Crusader defense stepped up to find its rhythm, making some extraordinary saves. But this set would again go to Naugatuck, 25-17, after an intense string of aces by captain Daniella Stoehrer (6 on the night).

Naugatuck was up two sets to Holy Cross’s one, but the fourth set began poorly for the Greyhounds, as they fell behind, 9-2. After a miraculous 13 unanswered points and a few more aces at the hand of Campos, Naugatuck was not only back in the set but leading, 15-9. It seemed as though Naugatuck would win three straight sets after losing the first to take the game, but miscommunication in setting the ball and the powerful Holy Cross front row combined to thwart Naugatuck’s efforts, frustrating coaches and players alike as Holy Cross won the set, 21-25.

“They gave the fourth set away,” Scheithe said. “When the score was close, we tended to play tight, as if we were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.”

As it was at their initial meeting, the game was decided by one final set. Holy Cross took an early, 6-2 lead, and despite outstanding offensive play—a number of aces by Campos to bring her to 6 for the game (30 points in all) and both fierce blocks and points by Augustine (3 and 16 for the night, respectively)—the Crusaders took the set to win the game.

The ability to remain attentive but loose, especially in the front row and when it counted the most, was the deciding factor in this physically and mentally-demanding matchup.

As Scheithe noted, “When we were doing well, we were aggressive; we had a free-spirit, flowing kind of attitude. There were some crucial plays, and I think we may have gotten a little tentative toward the end. We would get tentative especially with our serves, and in the end it was the inability to play under pressure that cost us the win.”

With the win, Holy Cross and coach Danielle Moffo improved to 9-5. Naugatuck moved to 6-9, and will face Ansonia, who bested the Greyhounds in their last outing, on Thursday.

“We have three games left, so the future is now, and that kind of attitude is going to come from within. It’s not the technical aspect of the game–it’s the psychological. Physically, these girls can play.”