Orange Live Sports Writer
Sponsored by Robert Sousa of Sousa & Stone
While the Amity volleyball team defeated visiting Norwich Free Academy 3-0 Friday night and did not trail until the later portion of the third game, the CIAC Class LL preliminary round contest was not nearly one-sided as the final score would indicate. The 22nd-ranked Wildcats came in with only a 7-9 record but they displayed a determined defense and solid hitting from Brianna Brennan (11 kills), Sydney Phelps (seven kills and two blocks), and Alyssa Velles (five kills) that kept them right on the Lady Spartans’ heels throughout the match.
Scoring spikes from Amanda Vecchio and Sydnee Sousa along with perfectly placed dinks by Allison Denny and Claire Foster as well as the first of Sousa’s three aces staked the Lady Spartans to an early 5-0 lead in the first game. NFA battled back with a four point response but Amity answered that with an eight point run that featured another Sousa ace, a spike and two blocks by Denny and a pair of Rebecca Denny dinks as Amity opened up a commanding 13-4 lead.
Slowly but surely, the Wildcats clawed their way back and closed within three points (19-16) as lanky sophomore middle hitter Olivia Lane stuffed two Lady Spartan blasts back over the net, and banged home a kill, Brennan blasted two balls to the floor, and 23 served up an ace. That would be as close as NFA would get in Game No. 1 as the Black and Gold rebounded with a 6-3 finish, highlighted by a pair of Sousa’s seven kills and a string of Wildcat mistakes.
The second game began in much the same fashion with a Vecchio kill, one of her six aces as well as a Sousa score and a shot into the net by the Wildcats’ Abby Mattern that gave Amity an early 4-0 lead. Once again the visiting Wildcats answered with four points in a row that included aces from Phelps and Carli Hust . A kill and a scoring dump over the net by Kristen Post and a Sousa dink enabled Amity to grab a more comfortable 12-7 lead. Again the relentless visitors answered with kills from Phelps, Velles, and Brennan along with an ace by their libero, Melissa Castillo as they drew back within a point (12-11).
As was the case earlier in the match, Amity felt NFA breathing down its neck and responded as Sousa’s ace sparked a 10-5 spurt that also included two Allison Denny kills and a dink along with Vecchio hammering a spike onto the floor. The Wildcats once again surged back with kills from Brennan, Velles, and Phelps along with a Phelps’ block and a Brennan service ace but got no closer than two points (23-21). Another Sousa kill and a game-ending service ace from setter Kathryn Pisano gave Amity a 2-0 advantage.
According to Amity Coach Paul Thees, “I thought we placed very nicely in Games 1 and 2. Our passing was great and our serving was pretty good too. We showed the ability to stick with it in a tight second game. My biggest concern was when we got up by eight points in the first game (15-7) but then lost it and found ourselves leading by only three points (19-16). That’s not good. We have to maintain our leads. Norwich hung in and played better defense than I had anticipated. #21 (Lane) was tall and had really long arms. She bothered us when she got to the net.”
For the third game in a row, the Lady Spartans came out with a strong start. Their early 7-2 lead was based on aces by Pisano and Vecchio, a Vecchio kill, and Post’s off-speed dink. Thanks to two more kills by Allison Denny, as well as additional scoring shots from Julia Bedini and Sousa with A Pisano dink tossed in for good measure, the winners jumped ahead 14-6.
As was the case throughout the night, Norwich Free Academy refused to fold under pressure. Amity suddenly lost its touch on service receipt as Castillo aced three serves and Brennan also landed an ace that keyed a Wildcat 7-1 response that chewed up Amity’s advantage and made it only a two point difference 15-13). When consecutive kills by Velles and Brennan were followed by a pair of aces by Hust. NFA completed an 11-2 surge and took its first lead of the match (17-16).
The remainder of that contest proved to be a see-saw battle that saw the lead be exchanged four times before Amity claimed a match-ending two point victory (28-26). During that time, each team was at match point on two occasions but unable to seal the deal. Trailing 26-25, Amity finally brought down the curtain with Vecchio dumping the ball over the net and then putting up two serves that NFA banged out of bounds.
“We were very inconsistent in the third game. Once again we built and then lost an eight point lead. They fed everything to No. 19 (Brennan). She had a tremendous number of hits, but not that many kills (11). We had not played or practiced in two days. We got our feet ready but have to play better Saturday night at Newtown,” Thees said. “I think our biggest problem tonight was our setting. The passing was good but our sets were too far off the net. That makes it tough to hit the ball.”
In addition its hitting, NFA got solid efforts from Castillo (10 digs and four aces) and Hust (five digs and four aces) along with 29 assists from its sophomore setter, Sophie Swedin.
Amity checked out with Sousa being good on all 18 of her serves and landing seven kills. Vecchio missed only one of her 18 serves and chalked up six aces. Foster was a perfect nine-for-nine from the service line and added a team-high 17 digs. Denny chipped in with 12 kills and three blocks. Pisano recorded 26 assists.
While NFA ended its season with a 7-10 record, Amity (now 17-4) is off to Newtown tonight to take on the 4thranked Nighthawks, that are 14-4 and the defending Class LL champs.