Rams volleyball wins meaningful playoff match
Less than a week after being humbled by a team wearing blue, the New Canaan Rams girls volleyball team did some humbling of its own to a team in an identical hue.
Head coach Katie Campbell's team had six days to stew on the 3-0 loss to Darien, a result that knocked New Canaan out of the FCIAC tournament. On Monday night at home, the 13th-seeded Rams took out No. 20 Bacon Academy in the opening round of the Class L division of the CIAC state tournament, winning 3-1.
The win was symbolic for a team that's taken a few years to turn around the culture of volleyball at New Canaan High; to leave 2010 without a postseason win on the docket wouldn't have been indicative of how far Campbell's taken the program.
"We have two excellent seniors who led us here," Campbell said, referring to Melissa Tweed and Ellen Trinklein. "It was really their program this year. With that, we turned a corner, I feel. ... This game showed that. They showed how much they're willing to fight and how much they enjoy playing together." The Rams (12-7) got a fight the entire game from the underdog Bobcats. Although New Canaan took the first game 25-21, they never led by more than five points.
"You did not expect a lot of the stuff coming out of them," Tweed said. "They had some great hitters, some really hard hits and really big girls out there. I think we played to our advantage where we could get around those big blocks and we used, I don't know, our tips and tricks also, which threw them off-guard a little bit." New Canaan held strong playing against Bacon Academy's two big players at the net -- seniors Kelly Dixon and Devon Coletta -- thanks to big vertical play from Tweed, Andrea Mullaney, Kellen Tensen and Rebecca Evensen.
"Kellen Tensen helped us win all of them," Campbell said of the Rams' three game wins Monday night. "She's phenomenal. She makes bad look good and good passes look amazing. She's just all over the place, the heart and soul. If she wasn't there, we'd have a lot of issues. Her creativity with the ball ... she's really a high-level player. All games can be attributed to her go-get-it-ness and her leadership." The Bobcats (8-11) started the second match with a 7-0 advantage and expanded that lead as large as a 12-3 deficit. But the Rams fought all the way back, taking a 20-19 lead on a Bacon Academy fault and ultimately winning the game 25-23.
"Andre Mullaney, our middle (hitter), she was able to push through and come through with the girls today," Campbell added. "She was big at the net, was aggressive. ... She wouldn't give up in the back row, either. She's a tall girl and all over the back court." The third game was different, though, as the Bobcats dominated, defeating New Canaan 25-10. Things weren't clicking for the Rams, and Bacon Academy had its only truly dominating stretch of play at the net between the 15- and 25-point thresholds, as they didn't let the Rams sniff a sweep.
"The energy changes so rapidly in the game of volleyball," Tweed said. "It really shows a true team who can pull themselves out of that hole like we did." New Canaan turned it around quickly in game No. 4, starting off with a 6-0 lead. The Bobcats were stubborn to let the match end early, as they fought back to tie the game at 17 before New Canaan called a timeout. After the regroup, the Rams finished off Bacon Academy by winning it 25-22. Emma Stracke got the final kill to send the Rams on to the next round.
"I think what's been consistent with us is, it's a mental game," Trinklein said. "I think that's what got us out of those eight-point holes." The flare for the dramatic hasn't been a calling card of this team, but when matches get to a critical point, the girls have succeeded far more often than they've failed in 2010.
"In the beginning of the year the coach used to call us the fifth-game team," Tweed said. "When it came down to the wire we definitely were the ones to push through and get the W. We definitely showed that in the last game." The Rams exhibited plenty of toughness, evidenced by sophomore Anne Conover returning during the final rally of the fourth game from a busted nose to help her team advance.
New Canaan will face No. 4 Farmington (15-3) at Farmington High Thursday night in the second round. No matter the result there, the win Monday night has long-lasting meaning for the two senior on this year's team and the 13 expected back next fall.
"We're making a big name for NC volleyball here," Tweed said. "All the upcoming years have been building to this year. This year is our breaking point."