There is nothing in sports that is impossible, but the Shelton High girls volleyball team certainly faced a tall order when the Gaelettes met Lyman Hall of Wallingford on Oct. 17.
Shelton needed to win the final four games of the regular season to qualify for the state tournament, and had its back to wall, having won only one of its last 11 matches.
Impossible? Not really. Having your work cut out for you? That would be putting it mildly.
The Gaelettes displayed the fiery disposition of their head coach LeAnne Bianchine and didn’t go down without a fight.
In front of a hometown crowd, the 4-10 Gaelettes beat back the efforts of the 9-5 Trojans by a 3-1 (25-15, 17-25, 25-18 and 25-22) margin.
The clock struck 12 for postseason hopes on Friday, when Cheshire High ensured itself a record fifth straight SCC Housatonic League title (shared this season with Amity), with a 3-0 win over Shelton.
Francesca Testani led Shelton with 32 digs. Brooke Grand added 15 digs and Nicole Beard steered the offense with 15 assists against 15-1 Cheshire.
Shelton may not be the dominant force it has been in past years, but always came to play as Lyman Hall found out.
“These girls want states so bad,” Bianchine said. “They know they are facing a big dog, but you never know. Anyone can get beat on any given day.”
Bianchine’s positive attitude convinced the girls to reach down and take their game to another level.
Taylor Peers (10 service points) stepped into serve and broke the fourth tie of game one with a five-point run to build an 11-6 Shelton lead.
The Gaelettes shifted gears and began to pull away on the strength of their front row play.
Dominika Marczak (seven kills, nine blocks), Kaitlyn Giangregorio (six kills, four blocks) and Testani (12 kills, four blocks) combined for 15 sideouts that stopped Lyman Hall in its tracks.
Emma Hanrahan (21 digs, seven service points) served up an ace, followed by a block and a kill from Alessandra Boisvert that opened up a 21-10 advantage.
Most of the Shelton side-out kills were finesse shots that landed just inside the back line as it closed out the 25-15 win.
The Trojans battled back in game two led by Stephanie Napierkowski (nine kills, eight aces) to build a slim 18-15 advantage.
A six-point run from Napierkowski helped to tie the match at one game each after the 25-17 Lyman Hall win.
Game three was the difference-maker. After 12 ties Shelton took over the game by outscoring the Trojans 7-1 down the stretch.
Tied at 17, Testani handed the Gaelettes a 20-18 advantage from the service stripe.
Grand rattled off a four-point run, highlighted by a Beard (15 assists, 13 service points) set up to Testani for the game-winning kill at 25-18.
“I think the key to turning that third game around was using my underclassman off the bench,” Bianchine said.
“I told the girls I was going to bring in some of the younger players to plan for the future.
“We want to make states, but with our record we needed to get the younger players some experience and they really stepped up.”
With the way Lyman Hall started out game four, this match looked like it was going to a fifth and deciding game, as the Trojans took a 10-3 lead.
But Shelton dug down and started to bang the nails out.
Aleksandra Szczesna and Julianna Mauriello returned serves in the middle row, and Testani and Marczak went up in tandem to block potential scoring threats at the net.
Gina Orazietti served up a pair of aces and the Gaelettes were making a move trailing 11-6. The Trojans briefly extended the lead only to have Kristen Sewell charge the net for a side-out kill.
Beard served up a four-point run, including an ace, to put the Gaelettes on top 20-18.
Lyman Hall closed the gap to 23-22, but Shelton had one last chance and Orazietti went to the stripe and closed out the 25-22 win.
“I told the girls we don’t want to be here for five games,” Bianchine said. “We have a lot more talent on this team than our record shows.”
“They didn’t want to lose another game in their gym and they just battled to get back in it. It really shows the character of these kids on this team.”
Shelton will close out the regular season today at Wilbur Cross in New Haven.