BEACON FALLS — The Woodland volleyball team has been down this road before and that experience steadied the nerves enough to pull out a second consecutive five-game thriller in the Class M state tournament.
Top-seeded Woodland (22-1) squeaked by No. 16 East Catholic Nov. 6 in a 3-2 match. The Hawks duplicated the feat in last Friday’s quarterfinals, toughing out a 3-2 win over testy No. 8-seeded Tolland.
“I’m sure it was a fun game for the fans to watch,” Woodland coach Jim Amato said with a smile of relief. “I guess where you sit in the gym is all relative to how exciting it is. Sometimes I think coaches and fans see two entirely different games.”
The win over Tolland (25-19, 14-25, 25-17, 28-30, 15-6) sent the Hawks to the semifinals for the second year in a row. Woodland will take on No. 5 Waterford at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Glastonbury. The Class M final is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. in Berlin.
Hannah Deegan’s six-point service run helped the Hawks to a 25-19 win in the first game, but Tolland rallied in game two when Alyssa Thompson closed the game with a seven-point service to complete the 25-14 Tolland win.
“I think in game two our feet got a little flat,” Amato said. “We made some errant passes and we were a little slow getting to the ball and that left the middle of the floor open at times. Tolland was doing a good job double-teaming Brianna (Pacileo) at the net all night long. But we want to get everyone on the floor involved so teams can’t focus on just one player. We try to stretch the floor and make everyone an option.”
The second game may have served as a wakeup call as the Hawks came out in the third looking to make a statement. Woodland bolted out to a 15-5 lead, but the Hawks couldn’t seem to close the door as the Eagles fought back to make it a 20-13 game. It took four more services down the stretch before Woodland could secure the 25-17 win.
Tolland took an 8-3 lead in the fourth to force a Hawks timeout, but Woodland responded when Pacileo went on a service tear. She dished out three straight aces over the top of the defense that fell in just before the end line. Anna Khalid helped to extend the run by throwing down a pair of kills at the net for a 12-9 lead.
Ashley Michie’s service kept Woodland ahead, but Tolland battled to get back in it. After an intense run of volleys by both teams, the Hawks’ Abbey Rosato rushed the net and slammed a kill past a pair of blockers.
The Eagles managed to get a brief lead down the stretch despite an all-out effort from Jill Gorman, who pulled a save out of the seats. With the score tied at 21-all, Pacileo stepped into serve with a chance to finish it out.
An ace down the sideline, a return in the net and a kill up top from Khalid gave the Hawks three match points at 24-21. Pacileo sent a laser that tipped the top of the net and fell out of bounds to give Tolland another go at it.
The Eagles rallied to tie and the game remained knotted through three game points on each side in the extended action. With every ball that went across the net the screams from the fans grew louder.
Tolland’s Chelsea Domian finally gave her team its last game point on a kill to the back row as Thompson stepped in to serve. The Hawks sent the return into the net, putting an end to the slugfest with Tolland escaping with the 30-28 win to force the fifth game.
Much like it did against East Catholic, Woodland regrouped quickly and stormed out to a 5-2 lead thanks to Samantha Lee’s serve. Rachel Starkey ended all doubt as her service run netted the Hawks a knee-buckling 10-4 advantage, and Woodland cruised to a 15-6 win — one that was satisfying on many levels.
“We have faced Tolland before,” Amato said. “They have knocked us out (in the past) and last year we knocked them out in the semis. It got a little personal down the stretch in game four and we made enough mistakes to allow them to stay in it. But we came out focused in game five and we got back to the semis.”
Good luck on Saturday girls. Keep up your awesome game!