RIDGEFIELD — Though they had defeated Ridgefield twice already, the members of the Greenwich volleyball team had not forgotten the feeling of having last season ended by the Tigers in the Class LL semifinals.
The Cardinals were denied the chance to play for a title despite a two-set lead.
“It took us a long time to recover from that,” Cardinals setter Nicole Wood said. “We wanted to beat them and beat them for a third time. Especially since we’ve come so far and surpassed expectations.”
So it was not surprising that when the Cardinals took a two-set lead in tonight’s state quarterfinal match, there was no taking the foot of the pedal. Instead, they made an emphatic final statement in a 25-15, 25-22, 25-7 straight-set victory at Ridgefield.
“We just knew that we didn’t want to feel like that again,” said Greenwich hitter Maggy Egan. “Maybe there is a little bit of revenge in there but I think it was our want to win the state title.”
The sixth-seeded Cardinals (22-4) are now just two steps away, riding a 18-match winning streak and playing their best volleyball of the fall at the most opportune time.
“Yeah, we’re on a roll, but volleyball is a funny game,” Greenwich coach Steve Lapham said. “You can get in a funk real quick. We’re just going to keep our head forward and try to get it done each point.”
Greenwich will meet No. 2 Southington in Wednesday’s semifinals at a neutral site.
No. 3 Ridgefield (17-4) never led once in the match. It fell behind 4-0 in the first set, 6-0 in the second and 3-0 in the third. There was a sustained rally in the middle game, when the Tigers got within 23-22. In what would qualify as a key play in such a decisive outcome, the Cardinals’ Tara Ford then made a great dig on a hard spike by Ridgefield’s Alicia Hill. Egan completed the point with a dink and Greenwich served out the game.
“We knew we couldn’t do that,” Ridgefield’s Caroline Curnal said of the early deficits. “We talked about it. It starts with the first point. We just weren’t able to capitalize. We knew their weaknesses, we knew their strengths and we had to adjust to that. It just wasn’t our day today.”
Curnal, one of the state’s premier hitters, had few opportunities, and because she opens games in the back row, by the time she got to net the Tigers were already playing catchup.
“I thought we distributed well but we just made a lot of mistakes, and it’s a game of mistakes,” Curnal said. “You want to make the least and we made the most.”
The Tigers were hoping to return to the final this year and bring home the school’s first title in the sport. Three of their losses came to Greenwich and the other to St. Joseph, the FCIAC runner-up, which has advanced to the Class M semifinal.
“We just made uncharacteristic errors,” Ridgefield coach Lidania Cibere said. “Our passing wasn’t great, our hitting wasn’t great. It just didn’t go our way today.”
Egan, the FCIAC final MVP, had 14 kills and 15 service points in what has been a memorable postseason.
“Maggy is scary,” Lapham said. “She hits spots so well. She had a great game today. Ripping out of the right. No one defends the right well and she has just been getting after it. She was on fire.”
Ford and Erika Hauschild each had seven kills for Greenwich. Wood had 17 service points and did an outstanding job running the offense.
“I think everyone stepped up, especially Maggy and Tara and even the freshmen, and that gives me a lot of options to mix it up so the other team doesn’t know where I’m going,” Wood said.
The defense was again led by Adnerys De Jesus, who finished with 28 digs.
“The digs by Adnerys, we see that every day in practice,” Lapham said. “We’re used to that. Balls don’t hit the ball often in our gym.”
There was little fault for Lapham to find with his team, and the killer instinct at the end had to be particularly satisfying.
“The only thing that really hurt us tonight was our serves at times, but otherwise we kept it in, the pressure was on,” Lapham said. “It seemed Ridgefield was always playing in the backcourt, they were out of system so we were getting a lot of easy balls to swing at. We just played cleaner volleyball. They did a nice job of double blocking us for a while there. We got a little stymied, the girls started to question it and I said no, stick to what we’re doing. We’re not going to change because we got an occasional block. Blocks are few and far between, kills come often. We were able to sneak out of that second set and then the third was beautiful.”
Greenwich’s performance earned the respect of a three-sport star who saw one chapter of her high school career close.
“They’re on a roll, they won FCIACs, I believe they’re a team that could make it to the state finals and potentially win it and I wish them the best of luck,” Curnal said. “They have good players and they work hard every day in practice.”