Girls volleyball: Barlow rolls to SWC crown

Joel Barlow High’s Sarah McAniff receives a serve during a South-West Conference girls quarterfinal match on Sunday, Nov. 4. The Falcons went on to beat Weston 3-0 for the championship on Tuesday.—Kathy Hickling photo

It had not surrendered so much as a set so far this season but that had little bearing on the South-West Conference championship as far as the Joel Barlow High girls volleyball team was concerned.

The unbeaten Falcons, who were riding a 20-match winning streak, were more concerned with matters at hand when they faced Weston for the title on Tuesday. Yet the contest turned out like the others for the Falcons, who dealt with their latest challengers for a 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-17) sweep on Tuesday at Lauralton Hall in Milford.

The win was Barlow’s third championship in six seasons and its first since 2009.

“You have to play one point at a time, one set at a time, one match at a time,” said Barlow head coach Steve Antal. “What you did yesterday doesn’t count.”

It was the third match in as many days for the Falcons due to the disruption of the playoff schedule last week because of Hurricane Sandy. They started with a quarterfinal match on Sunday when they hosted eighth-seeded New Fairfield, a team they defeated in the last match of the regular season. They still took nothing for granted while continuing their winning streak into the post-season with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-7) sweep.

“New Fairfield is scrappy,” said Antal. “They came with some intensity.”

Still, the Falcons rarely trailed in the match. They were down 2-1 briefly at the start of the first game.

A kill by Sara McAniff broke a 4-4 tie and she served up five straight points to help her team take the lead for good. Strong net play by Hannah Goetz and Allie Grimes, coupled with a few hitting errors on New Fairfield’s part widened the gap to 20-10 before the Falcons closed out the win.

Barlow started the next contest well enough with a 5-0 lead only to have the Rebels battle back to tie it at 8-8. A kill by McAniff won back the serve and put the Falcons back in the lead, which reached 16-9 at one point, forcing the Rebels to call time-out.

With the help of some hitting errors on Barlow’s part New Fairfield got as close as 16-15. Kaitlin Marino’s block and subsequent ace gave the hosts some more breathing room until they finished the game on a pair of serves by Grimes.

Now up 2-0 the Falcons left nothing to chance in the third game. A kill by Kanuk at the start marked New Fairfield’s last lead before the Falcons responded with eighth straight service points by Victoria Shea and they never looked back.

McAniff had 14 service points and 15 kills. Shea served up 12 points with five kills and Goetz had a good match at the net with 12 kills.

Scores were similar when the Falcons took on fourth-seeded Bunnell in the semifinals the next day. They faced the biggest challenge in the third game before winning that and the match 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-21) to earn the trip to the finals.

Like any other opponent they faced in the playoffs, Weston was another team the Falcons had defeated earlier in the season. Since then the third-seeded Trojans had won 13-straight matches, including a 3-2 upset over two-time defending champ Newtown in the semifinals.

The Falcons were now without Goetz, who injured  her ankle prior to the start of the match. Filling in was Virginia Barlow, who did “an awesome job,” according to Antal.

Weston posed its biggest threat early, battling the Falcons for much of the first game. Even when Barlow had the lead the Trojans trailed by no more than three points for most of the way.

Savannah Carpenter’s kill broke a 16-16 tie and the Trojans then went up 18-16 before the Falcons answered with five straight points of their own with the help of back-to-back kills by Shea. After calling time-out, Weston tied it at 21-21 but a few errors on its part put the Falcons in front again and they closed out the win.

Barlow wasted no time going up early in the next contest, taking a 10-2 lead  yet the Trojans again battled back, cutting the lead to just a point (19-18, 20-19). McAniff’s kill won back the serve and another by Shea a short while later ended the game.

Shea started the third game with a six-point run for Barlow and it remained out of reach for the rest of the match.

“We come out every play and hope we get the outcome that we want,” said McAniff, who was named the Most Valuable Player for the tournament. “We come out intense and ready to play.”

She finished with six service points, 15 kills and 10 digs. Shea had nine points with 11 kills, 11 digs and Samantha Schwear served up nine points with 24 assists.

“Everybody stepped up,” said Antal. “The girls did a great job.”

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