By PHIL BRODSKY
Orange Live Sports Writer
No coach who has already played a team twice in a season wants to play that team again for a third time. For coaches that have won the first two contests, know how hard it is to beat an opponent three times. On the other hand, a coach that has already lost its first two contests to an opponent in the same season, fears a third straight defeat. These were the scenarios when the volleyball teams from Branford and Amity tangled on Monday night for the third time this fall. The Hornets had won the first two matches by identical 3-2 scores. This meeting, which was held in Woodbridge, pitted the third-ranked Lady Spartans and the fifth-ranked Hornets in the quarter-finals of the Southern Connecticut Conference play-offs.
“Tonight our aim was to finally beat Branford. We didn’t think that we were that bad that we’d lose to them a third time,” said Amity coach Paul Thees. “We felt that we had taken enough from them. In the first match, we went up 2-0, and then let them come back and beat us. In the second match, we were behind 2-0, came back to tie the match at 2-2 and then lost. Enough is enough. We felt that it was time for us to finally beat Branford.”
Much to the delight and relief of the Black and Gold, they finally did defeat the Hornets 3-1 (25-16, 25-19, 21-25, 25-20). With this victory, Amity (now 15-4) advances to SCC semi-finals against second-ranked Mercy tonight at 5 p.m. in Middletown. The 15-5 Hornets now look ahead to the start of the CIAC state tournament later this week.
Thanks in large part to a trio of Allison Denny kills along with service aces by Amanda Vecchio and Claire Foster, Amity jumped out to an early 9-3 lead in the first game. Slowly but surely, the Hornets battled back to tie the score, 13-13. In addition to timely kills from Anna Atkinson, Brianna Williams, and Tara Dering along with Kelly Smith’s ace Branford benefited from a string of Lady Spartan mistakes.
After letting Branford off the hook and get even, Amity regrouped and closed out the game with a 12-3 surge. Ignited by the first of Sydnee Sousa’s four service aces, Denny banged Hannah Zampano’s kill attempt back over the net and did the same with a blast from Atkinson. Following a Denny ace and a kill as well as Amanda Vecchio’s timely off-speed dink, Amity held a 22-16 lead. The opener ended with three straight errant hits by the Hornets.
Branford held the upper hand during the early portion of the second contest. Following two Meg Wirtz kills and a dink by Zampano, the visitors had opened up a 13-10 lead. Once again Denny brought Amity back with a pair of blocks and a string of Hornet side-outs to tie the tally at 16-16. With Vecchio hammering two spikes to the floor and catching Branford off guard with a dink, along with three more Hornet misfires, the Lady Spartans wrapped up the second game with an eight point spurt that let to 9-3 run.
According to Thees, “Getting a win in the first game helped us a lot. It was a big key to our winning the match. I thought we played really well in the first two games. The story of the game was setting. When we spread out the assists, we’re not getting offensive production. When we go with our primary setter (Pisano) and concentrate our assists in bunches, it’s a sign that we are consistently hitting the ball.At the outset of the third he Lady Spartans held leads of 6-3and 10-6, but those advantages were short-lived. Fired up by three Atkinson kills and a service ace, Branford flew off on a 12-1 run and grabbed an 18-11 advantage. With a string of errant Amity hits and two more Zampano kills, the Hornets extended their lead to 24-18. A final kill from Atkinson brought the game to an end.
“Things weren’t going well in the third game so I put in some substitutes, but that cost us,” Thees said. “I don’t know why but during the third game, we sat back on our heels and played defense, instead of being aggressive and hitting the ball at Branford. That’s something we cannot afford to do. If we had hit the ball more in the third game, we could have been out of here in three games.”
Breaking a 3-3 tie in the fourth game, Sousa put home another ace. Two more Denny kills and four consecutive Branford mistakes put the Lady Spartans on top, 10-5. Taking advantage of Amity errors and a Dering kill, Branford crept back within a point (12-11) but never got any closer.
Sousa banged home a kill and then scored on a dink that were sandwiched around a Vecchio ace to propel Amity out to a 17-11 lead that was extended to 22-14 on two Sousa service aces, kills by Allison and Rebecca Denny. Down but not out, Branford answered with a pair of kills from Zampano and one from Atkinson and crept back within two points (22-20) but never any closer. A pair of Hornet misfires and a Sousa kill ended the match.
Thees added, “We went back to our starting line-up for Game No. 4. I was nervous that if we lost this game, it would be ‘here we go again with a five game match.’ Kathryn Pisano began to set the ball and we began to hit the ball again. I think that got their heads. I had constantly told my kids not to hit the ball at Atkinson. She killed us in the first two matches, so we wanted to keep the ball away from her and instead, hit it at some of their weak links.”
In addition to a team-high 10 kills, Sousa landed all 19 of her serves with four aces. Allison Denny recorded six kills and three blocks. Vecchio added three kills and a block. Pisano put up 26 assists and was good on all but one of her 14 serves. Claire Foster chipped in with 17 of 18 serves and nine digs. Libero Liz Marino recorded a team-high 14 digs.
Summing up his team’s emotional victory, Thees said, “We wanted redemption tonight and we got it!”