No. 4 seed Conard hosted No. 12 seed Fairfield Ludlowe Saturday night in West Hartford in the quarterfinals of the girls volleyball Class LL tournament.
By Ted Newton. Photos by Ronni Newton
Conard took on Fairfield Ludlowe in a Class LL quarterfinals girls’ volleyball match in front of a packed home gym Saturday night. Feeding off a rowdy crowd of over 200 fans, both teams played five spirited, hard-fought, back-and-forth sets, with Ludlowe prevailing 3-2.
“I loved their grit and determination to play,” said Conard coach Kerry Roller, “to just try to take a win. We came into the game without a starter, and for them to take this team to [five sets] was special.” Roller was notified 90 minutes before the match that AJ Sharpe, the Chieftains’ stats-leading middle hitter, would not be able to play.
In the first set Conard, at a distinct height disparity to their down-state rivals, took advantage of strong serving and spiking, along with Ludlowe’s “double” (not handling the ball correctly when setting up their hits) trouble, and won 25-16.
“Yes, they had a lot of height. We knew they were very tall, as we’d scrimmaged against them earlier in the season. We prepared by really just working on our defense, and we did a lot of off-the-block hitting during practice this week.”
The second set saw Ludlowe tighten up its ball handing, and the Falcons jumped out to a 7-1 lead. After an extended volley, which featured great defense from both teams, Conard rallied to even the score at 12. The two teams traded scores and tied at 17, but Ludlowe went on an 8-1 run to close out the set 25-18.
The third set featured extended volleys and some spectacular digs by Conard’s “libero” (defensive specialist) sophomore Lily Nguyen, with Conard dominating the last half of the set and prevailing 25-14 and ahead 2-1 in sets.
Ludlowe dominated the fourth set from the start, however. Despite an ace serve by Nguyen and well-placed shots by senior Kallie Guerraz, the Chieftains were unable to counter the Falcons’ height, and were staring at a 19-12 deficit. Conard needed a run to stop Ludlowe, but couldn’t get it, with the visitors running away with the set, 25-13.
Heading into the deciding fifth set – which, unlike the earlier sets, is decided by 15 points – coach Roller told her team “We’ve been here before, multiple times, you know how to do it, it’s a matter of being patient, and playing harder than the other team.” With thunderous cheers from fans on both sides of the gym, and a season on the line for all the players, the teams fought hard, scrapping for each point. After a great block by Conard senior Nyssa Park, and the score tied at 4, it was anyone’s game.
In the end, though, the Falcons’ height was just too much for Conard, as they set up successive kill shots from the left side of the net. With Ludlowe on the verge of winning the set (and the match), both teams displayed tremendous heart and determination by engaging a volley that lasted over two minutes, with several players diving on the court to keep the ball in play. One parent remarked it was the best volleyball she had witnessed all season.
But Conard lost this point, and then the next one, and the visitors prevailed 15-7 to win the match and end the Chieftains’ season.
“It’s not how I’d like to finish, but it was a great match,” said Roller. “I’m so proud of our three seniors, they all had injuries, they all pushed hard and worked well as a team. It’s really a special team, a cohesive team that really worked well together. I attribute it to the three seniors (Guerraz, Park and Isabella Pincince) who really brought them all together.”
This is the second time in a row Ludlowe played spoiler to Conard in the tournament. The two teams met in the quarterfinals in 2019, the last time a championship season was held, and Ludlowe also won that match 3-2.
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