Ludlowe Sweeps Stamford To Earn Class LL Volleyball Semifinal Meeting With Darien

Ludlowe's Keki Cardenas delivers a kill during Saturday's Class LL quarterfinal win over Stamford. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)
Ludlowe’s Keki Cardenas delivers a kill during Saturday’s Class LL quarterfinal win over Stamford. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

FAIRFIELD — When the draw for the Class LL Tournament was released, Fairfield Ludlowe volleyball coach Meghan Skelton and her players took a moment to peruse the pairings.

They paused and collectively smiled.

A victory after a first-round bye meant a potential quarterfinal match with Stamford. That could lead to a possible semifinal against Darien.

Matches against the two teams responsible for the Falcons’ three losses.

“I was very excited when I saw the lineup,” Skelton said. “But one match at a time.”

Stamford's Anne Margaret Eilertsen goes up for a kill during Saturday's match. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)
Stamford’s Anne Margaret Eilertsen goes up for a kill during Saturday’s match. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

The first step came Saturday afternoon, when the Falcons swept Stamford, 25-16, 25-11, 25-18. The prize? A third meeting with the Blue Wave on Thursday night.

“We were really motivated today,” said Keki Cardenas, who along with April Cooke helped the Falcons dominate in the middle. “Stamford is a good, strong team, but I just think we were a little off the first time we played them. We really want to go far in states.”

With the score 14-12 in the opening set, Ludlowe (20-3), the No. 3 seed, pulled away. It jumped out to a commanding 20-3 lead in the second game, and the Black Knights were never the same.

“We played well game one,” Stamford coach Mike Smeriglio said. “We had too many hitting errors. They’re a great team. We have to give credit to Ludlowe for making us play that poorly. Game one, if we didn’t hit out so much it might have been a little bit closer.”

Fairfield Ludlowe's Olivia Auray makes a pass against Stamford. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)
Fairfield Ludlowe’s Olivia Auray makes a pass against Stamford. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

The 6-foot-3 Cooke was overpowering at net, with 13 kills and three blocks. Cardenas added eight kills.

Cardenas said the explosion in the second set was due not to what happened at the net but away from it.

“I think it was our serves,” she said. “We have a couple of really strong servers and they just went back and ripped it. It was really fun to watch.”

Kylie McCaffery and Alice Nelson combined for 15 service points. McCaffery, who had 10 of them, including four aces, added six digs. Nelson had 12 digs.

Stamford's Nicole Pease receives a serve against Ludlowe. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)
Stamford’s Nicole Pease receives a serve against Ludlowe. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

Skelton said she also made defensive adjustments to contain Anne Margaret Eilertsen, the Black Knights’ best hitter.

“We wanted a second chance at them,” Skelton said. “We didn’t really play well the first time. They’re a great team and they played awesome the first meeting. We practiced a lot of what they gave us the first time, we focused a lot more on their tips and how to cover them because they destroyed us. And we changed the lineup to get bigger blocks on (Eilertsen).”

Stamford, the sixth seed, finished 19-5. All three teams it met in the state tournament were from the FCIAC.

Ludlowe's April Cooke makes a block at net. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)
Ludlowe’s April Cooke makes a block at net. (Photo: Gregory Vasil)

“I just wish we played a little bit better just to demonstrate how good we really were,” Smeriglio said. “We had a great season.”

Now the Falcons can focus their attention on unbeaten Darien. Though they were swept in the FCIAC final, all three games were close.

“I thought it was the best game we’ve played, which is strange because we lost,” Cardenas said. “I think we just need to trust each other. Right now that might be our biggest issue.”

Skelton will have four days to prepare her players for Darien. The work will be strategical. Inspiration will not be an issue.

“We have to limit our unforced errors,” Skelton said. “That’s where we went wrong. Mistakes at key times. The girls are starving for it. It’s always fun to play a great program.”

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