FAIRFIELD — A transformative season for the Westhill volleyball team came to an abrupt halt tonight, one match shy of a trip to the Class LL finals.
After losing a close opening set and a big lead in the second, the third-seeded Vikings were swept by No. 10 Amity, 26-24, 25-23, 25-20, in the semifinal round.
“I told them we needed to win the first or second set,” Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan said. “I just think we weren’t playing aggressive. We needed to swing a lot more. Like we normally do.”
The Vikings (22-4) last reached the championship in 1986. Their last title came in 1980.
And at times tonight the end of the drought seemed to be within reach. In a close opening game, the Vikings came from 22-19 down to forge a 23-23 tie. They withstood one set point but not a second, bumping a ball long.
Westhill surged out to a 14-4 lead in game two, showing the type of formidable play at net that had been evident most of the season. But as the Spartans chipped away, the Vikings grew passive, sending over free balls rather than attacking. Amity tied the game at 22-22 and then won three of the next four points to take control.
“We weren’t as aggressive as we should have been,” said Westhill’s Nikki Newcomer, who finished with seven kills and 17 digs. “Because we weren’t aggressive our offense wasn’t on like it usually is.”
Trailing, 7-6, the Vikings were plagued by unforced errors and fell behind 20-11 in the final game. Becoming more assertive at net, they battled to within 24-20 before the Spartans’ Abigail Harbinson delivered her 13th kill to close out the match.
“They just needed to fight like they did the last few points and stay aggressive the whole way through,” Linnehan said.
Amity, which lost to Greenwich in last year’s final, will face Darien for the title on Saturday morning. The Blue Wave defeated Southington in five sets to reach the championship for the first time since 2014.
“We definitely had way better games than this,” Newcomer said. “Multiple times during the season we came out and we knew we were going to win. We had all the effort and motivation in the world. Tonight it wasn’t there. Obviously without that strive to pummel the other team you’re not going to come out fighting and they did.”
Vasiliki Servos finished with 14 assists, six service points and five digs for Westhill. Sophia Thagouras added 12 assists, five kills and four digs, Betsy Sachs had seven kills and Nina Bakuradze had 16 digs.
“Our heads weren’t where they should have been,” Newcomer said. “We’ve been in that situation where we are all in and fighting our hearts out and it just wasn’t tonight.”
When Linnehan and her three seniors arrived three years ago, the Vikings finished 5-15 — and did so by winning their final four matches. Progression came with each season. There were 13 wins last fall but a lost tiebreaker kept them out of the FCIAC Tournament.
The Vikings reached the final this year for the first time since 2004 before losing to Trumbull.
“I’m proud of them,” Linnehan said. “They did everything this season. More than ever before.”
Newcomer and Bakuradze are the only two senior starters, so the Vikings will bring back a strong core next year.
“It’s amazing I am able to say I ended with Westhill being in the state semifinals,” Newcomer said. “To go from where we were when I was a freshman; we were horrible. To end up here is an amazing feeling. We had a great group of girls and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to go this far with. I know next year they are going to be here again.”