FAIRFIELD — Nicole Trommelen was just 6 the only time the Trumbull volleyball team reached the FCIAC championship. That was 19 years ago.
Despite her young age, Trommelen impressed enough that when the Eagles’ head coaching job opened up in the offseason, Mike King, the school’s athletic director, elevated her from freshmen coach to take over the program.
“I knew coming in we were going to have to piece together a lot of pieces from the previous year, so I was just kind of excited to work with them,” Trommelen said.
Picking the right time to play one of their most complete matches of the season, the Eagles turned their preseason visions into reality with a 3-0 win over top-seeded Westhill for their first conference title. The scores were 25-22, 25-22, 22-13.
“It’s something we’ve been working on since day one,” Trommelen said. “We knew we had a shot this year to compete for the FCIAC title, we worked really hard and it all came together very nicely today.”
With a 6-3 record after getting swept by the Vikings, the Eagles are now riding a 12-match winning streak. Eight of the last nine have been decided in straight sets.
“It took us a while to start jelling as a team, but we saw the hitter that we have and the potential at setter,” Trommelen said. “She was young but we knew what she could do. We knew we had a legit shot.”
That setter, sophomore Ali Castro, was nearly flawless, finishing with 36 assists. A first year starter, she proved equally on target setting up her teammates for praise.
“My hitters are so good at adjusting to the ball,” Castro said. “I can trust them. Same with my passers. If I’m off the net I can get it there and I know my hitters will put it away.”
After Thursday’s lengthy and hard-fought five-set semifinal matches, the expectation was for a long afternoon at Fairfield Ludlowe.
“I was expecting to walk in and go to five sets,” Castro said. “They are a tough team. They put in such a tough fight, they have so many good hitters on the team and they have such a good back row. I wasn’t expecting this to happen.”
But the second-seeded Eagles handled everything Westhill delivered at them. In a closely contested opening set, Trumbull took its biggest lead at 21-17, only to have the Vikings surge back for a 22-22 tie. Krystina Schueler, the Eagles’ powerful hitter Trommelen referred to, got a point off a block and Ashleigh Johnson served out the set.
Trumbull had a 21-13 lead in the second set, but the Vikings again rebounded and got within 24-22 on Sanjana Nayak’s dink. But the Eagles won the second set on a point that lasted 50 seconds as both teams refused to let the ball hit the floor.
“We had to keep the ball alive on our side,” Trommelen said. “We were able to do that and put the pressure on Westhill, and we did a good job of keeping our composure. The last point in game two, we fought for that point. It was an amazing rally and that propelled us in game three.”
Schueler finished with 15 kills and 3 blocks.
“We were able to find the open spots on the court, with our tips and hits,” Castro said. “Krystina slams the ball and no one is able to touch it. Everybody just looks at it. They’re a second too late.”
Julia Roberto also flourished at net, with 12 kills and 2 blocks. The Eagles’ libero, Rachel Hage, had 11 digs.
While the Eagles as newbies made a nice narrative, the Vikings made the leap from winning 13 games a year ago and failing to qualify for the FCIAC Tournament. With just three seniors, two of whom are starters, they reached the final for the first time since 2004. They last won the title in 1986.
“It was just a bad day to have a bad game,” Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan said. “I’m so proud of how far they’ve come. I never though we’d be in the championship. Trumbull played very well today but we also made a lot of errors. A lot of unforced errors.”
At the end of the day, the Eagles were still trying to come to terms with what they accomplished.
“It’s so amazing,” Castro said. “Knowing my team has gone this far. With a new coach. I thought we were going to be good this year. We had the potential.”
Along with a semifinal win over Fairfield Ludlowe, the Eagles avenged two of their losses in three days.
“I said all year we had our eye on this prize,” Trommelen said. “We knew we were as good as any other team in the FCIAC and we kept fighting for everything. To earn the second seed was amazing. We played a really good FCIAC tournament.”