Woodland, Naugy fall in semifinals

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NAUGATUCK — Four of the top five teams in the NVL went head-to-head Tuesday for the right to play for the NVL volleyball championship.

No. 3 Woodland (16-4) took No. 2 Seymour (19-1) down to the wire before falling 3-2 (25-14, 25-21, 18-25, 25-27, 15-11). The second semifinal of the night pit No. 4 Naugatuck (14-6) against No. 1 Torrington (19-1). Torrington prevailed 3-1 (25-12, 25-18, 21-25, 25-15).

The Hawks dropped a 3-2 decision to Seymour during the regular season so it came as a surprise to see Woodland get handled in game one of Tuesday’s semifinal, 25-14.

Seymour blew out to a 9-2 lead in game two and it looked like a sweep was in the making. McKenna Cronin went hard to the net for a side out kill and Maddie Hupprich strung together a service run that got Woodland back into the game.

It was an 18-17 deficit before the Hawks just ran out of steam. Seymour went on to take a 2-0 advantage.

The Hawks had no intentions of going out quietly, though.

Woodland trailed 12-8 in game three before the Hawks turned things around. Fatima Khalid came on to provide a defensive spark. Katelyn Minutillo and Julia Swiatek added to the Hawks’ back row presence.

Steph Krebbs recorded a side out kill and the Hawks were out in front 15-14. Hupprich and Jen Triana attacked the net and the lead grew to 22-17. Swiatek closed out the 25-18 win with a game-winning serve.

Game four saw ten ties as the back-and-forth struggle went on. Both teams recorded game point but couldn’t find an open spot on the floor to put the game-winner down. Finally, with Triana in serve, a return by Seymour just went beyond the end line for the 27-25 final margin tying the match at 2-2.

In the final game, Caitlyn O’Hara took up serve in an 8-8 tie and rattled off a run that got Seymour to game point at 14-8. Woodland battled and cut the deficit to 14-11 before Caitlyn Ragaini recorded the game-winner to send Seymour to the NVL final.

“I told them after the first two games that there was still a lot of volleyball to play,” Woodland head coach Jim Amato said. “We looked real solid in games three and four. Our serve receive was back, we were making good passes and our defense was making plays.”

Torrington defeated Naugatuck twice in the regular season and made it look easy in game one of Tuesday’s semifinal. The Raiders went out in front 7-1 and continued to pull away in spite of a game effort by the Greyhounds.

The Raiders had reached game point and still Naugatuck had four girls diving to the floor to save a return. The Raiders finally took game one, 25-12.

Naugatuck had the upper hand in game two and got out to a 10-5 advantage. Michelle Cordova was guarding the back row and Jayla Piazza came on to provide a defensive spark.

Torrington closed the gap in spite of several blistering kills by Olivia Rotatori. The Greyhounds held a slim 18-17 lead when the Raiders’ Carissa Carbone closed the deal with an eight-point service run for the 25-18 win and a 2-0 advantage.

“Our game plan was to target their middle and try and block as many balls as we could,” Rotatori said. “They are the best team we’ve faced this year and what better way to get ready for the state tournament than to play a team like Torrington.”

Naugatuck fell behind in game three but continued to fight and eventually tied the game at 18-18. Emma Healy stepped in to serve and finished off the Raiders with a five-point service run for the 25-21 Naugatuck win.

Torrington regained the momentum in game four, and a 15-9 lead suddenly opened up to a ten-point advantage at 22-12. It was only a matter of time before the Raiders closed out the 25-15 win to advance to the NVL finals.

“Torrington has a lot of great athletes who can cover a lot of territory,” Naugatuck head coach Kevin Wesche said. “That’s why they are 20-1. I was impressed with the way our girls came out and battled them head-to-head. Going into the states I like where we are as a team.”

In the quarterfinal round on Saturday, Woodland disposed of No. 6 Holy Cross, 3-0 (25-21, 25-18 25-20). Hupprich led the way with 27 assists, six kills, and 15 digs.

Triana had five kills, three assists and two aces. Lindsey Gabianelli added five kills and six digs. Emily Brouillette had five kills and four aces.

Naugatuck got by No. 4 Kennedy, 3-1 (25-14, 22-25, 25-15, 25-23), in the quarterfinals. Rotatori led the charge with 21 kills and 11 blocks. Molly Kennedy was a force, recording 21 service points on 11 aces and 12 kills. Kelly Murphy steered the offense with 34 assists and five service points.

Healy had 14 service points and Cordova added 12 service points and 13 digs. Taylor Hyde had five kills to go along with three blocks. Cailee Bergin added five service points and two aces.

Naugatuck and Woodland will now head into state tournament play. The pairings will be announced late this week.