Vik­ings turn up the fun

Westhill sweeps Ham­den to set up quar­ter­fi­nal match with ri­val Greenwich

Stamford Advocate - - Sports - CLASS LL VOL­LEY­BALL By Nick Veron­ica

STAM­FORD — The Westhill girls vol­ley­ball team needs three more wins to earn its first state ti­tle in al­most 40 years.

If the Vik­ings con­tinue to play like they did in the third set of Thurs­day’s sec­ond-round vic­tory over Ham­den, that goal could be well within reach.

Westhill, seeded third in the CIAC Class LL play­offs, fin­ished off Ham­den with flair to ad­vance in straight sets and earn a meet­ing with de­fend­ing state cham­pion and FCIAC-ri­val Greenwich on Satur­day.

Westhill took the first set 25-21 and the sec­ond set 25-17, but the vic­to­ries were hardly con­vinc­ing against a Ham­den team that was over­matched on pa­per as the 19th seed but came off the bus full of spunk.

Things changed in the third set, though. The Vik­ings looked as if they found a way to go into their set­tings and turn on team­work. They ro­tated smoother, cov­ered for each other’s mis­takes, forced the Green Drag­ons into er­rors and seemed to get kills on ev­ery

op­por­tu­nity. Ham­den was shell-shocked. Westhill won 16 con­sec­u­tive points while jump­ing out to a 21-1 lead be­fore clos­ing out the match, 25-9.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween sets 2 and 3, ac­cord­ing to Westhill coach Mar­i­anna Lin­nehan, was sim­ple: The Vik­ings turned up the fun.

“We started off slow,” Lin­nehan said, “and then I’m like, lis­ten, go out there and have fun. I want you to have fun and play hard like we do in prac­tice ev­ery day. That’s what they do. They just went out and had fun.

“I think we started off play­ing flat with our en­ergy,” she added. “We made a ton of mis­takes and we were try­ing to find out rhythm.”

Ju­nior Sophia Thagouras led Westhill (21-3) with nine kills. Ju­nior Betsy Sachs had six kills and seven digs while sopho­more Vasi­liki Ser­vos added seven digs and three aces.

“The last set we re­ally picked it up and de­cided we’re go­ing to dom­i­nate and take that on to the rest of the state cham­pi­onship games,” Thagouras said.

The road to the cham­pi­onship leads Westhill to a quar­ter­fi­nal matchup with Greenwich. The de­fend­ing state champs are seeded 11th this year, but they knocked off No. 6 Fair­field Lud­lowe on Thurs­day. Westhill needed five sets to beat Greenwich in Oc­to­ber.

“I re­ally just want to con­tinue play­ing like we did in Game 3 where our en­ergy was high and we were play­ing smart,” Lin­nehan said. “I know it’s not go­ing to be easy from now on. So I just want to take away their en­ergy and love for the sport and keep it go­ing.”

Westhill’s only state ti­tles came in 1975 and 1980. But Thagouras likes the Vik­ings’ chance if they con­tinue to play as a team.

“We talk a lot about team bond­ing,” she said. “We have a lot of chem­istry on the court and it shows. Off the court we’re all re­ally close and it’s some­thing that a lot of teams don’t have. So I think we are able to bring each other up and play to­gether very flu­idly.”

Ham­den ended its sea­son at 13-11.

“It was an up-and-down sea­son for the most part, but they fight, they scram­ble, they don’t give up,” coach Tri­cia Shugrue said.

“I tell them all the time, we play bet­ter when we talk to each other con­stantly — where the ball is, see­ing the ball, see­ing what’s on the other side. That was a huge dif­fer­ence in the third game. We just didn’t talk as much as we did in the first one. And that hus­tle was there in the first and sec­ond game.”

Lind­say Perry / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Westhill’s Vasi­liki Ser­vos sets the ball dur­ing Thurs­day’s Class LL vol­ley­ball game against Ham­den in Stam­ford. Westhill won 3-0 to ad­vance to the quar­ter­fi­nals, where it will meet FCIAC ri­val Greenwich.

Lind­say Perry / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Westhill’s Sophia Thagouras bumps the ball dur­ing Thurs­day’s Class LL vol­ley­ball game against Ham­den in Stam­ford.

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