Volleyball

Dominant Front Line Powers Cadets To Straight-Set Win Over Warde

St. Joseph’s Grace Brady goes up for a block against Warde’s Mia Rembish. (Mark Conrad)

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield Warde girls volleyball coach Matt Narwold wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way his team lost in straight sets to St. Joseph five days earlier. He was even more frustrated today when the Mustangs dropped another 3-0 match to the Cadets.

Now consider that his team will have to play St. Joseph not once, but two more times in this Covid-altered, pod-manufactured, shortened season. Fortunately for his girls, though, Narwold is the calm, even-tempered, unflappable type.

“The last time we played St. Joseph we committed 67 unforced errors, which led to 67 of their 75 points,” Narwold said. “My guess is that we came close to that again today.”

The old adage held true today: You can’t make too many mistakes against a good team and expect to win. St. Joseph took advantage and, led by the strong front line of Jenna Koonitsky, Katie Spangenberg and Lily Mattison — made it six straight sets against the Mustangs.

Warde’s Stewart Gaillard tries to block a ball hit by the Cadets’ Ava Tuccio. (Mark Conrad)

“We gave them a few points today, too,” St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau said. “But we have a good front line and that certainly helps.”

Koonitsky was an All-FCIAC second-team selection last year as a junior and led the way today with 10 kills and four blocks.

“Jenna is a great player and had a really nice day,” Babineau said. “Blocking and defense is key. If you have that you’re going to win.”

Spangenberg had six kills and two blocks while the Cadets’ third tall front-liner, Mattison, had six kills and contributed five aces.

 “St. Joe’s is a very good team and and does a great job with their block coverage and their outside coverage,” Norwold said. “That makes it tough.”

The Mustangs’ Ella Smith returns a serve against St. Joseph. (Mark Conrad)

What also made it tough for the Mustangs was being without senior captain and top hitter Clare Edminster. The 5-foot-10 Edminster, a first-team All-FCIAC selection last year, lost her senior season when she tore her ACL and miniscus.

“It’s a transition for us,” Narwold said. “We’re trying to fill that spot.”

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The Mustangs (1-3) didn’t help themselves with slow starts in each of the first two sets. The Cadets (2-2) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Game 1, then led 12-5 and withstood a five-point Warde blitz behind the serving of Mia Rembish before cruising to a 25-17 victory.

St. Joseph started quickly again in the second set, taking a 6-1 lead. But this time the Mustangs, led by Stewart Galliard and setter Kirra Baker, bounced back and quickly tied matters at 10-10. But with the score tied at 12, the Cadets went on an 8-1 run, mostly behind the serving of Brittany Mairano, to grab a 20-13 advantage and ended up prevailing 25-15.

St. Joseph’s Brittany Mairano makes a pass as Lily Mattison watches. (Mark Conrad)

The Mustangs seemed determined to avoid another three-game sweep in the third set and took their first lead of the match at 6-5, and still led 10-7 when the Cadets’ front line decided it didn’t want to go to a fourth set. With Mattison serving for four consecutive points and Koonitsky dominating near the net, the Cadets finished off a 9-1 run to take a 16-11 lead.

Warde, led by Brianna Janz, who had 12 digs, two kills and three service points, got within 22-20. But the Cadets used their defense and blocking to hold on.

The “season,” which began two weeks late and will end earlier than usual, consists of just nine matches against three schools (Trumbull, St. Joseph, Fairfield Ludlowe and Fairfield Warde make up this four-team pod), and any kind of postseason play is still to be determined.

The Mustangs’ Kirra Baker makes a pass from the back row. (Mark Conrad)

But both teams — especially the seniors — have had little choice other than to accept the situation. And in that regard, both teams seem undefeated.

“I have to give the girls a lot of credit,” Babineau said. “It’s been tough, being together since July 6 and it’s tough going from playing three games a week to what is now two. But when we get on the bus, the adrenaline flows.”

“We’re staying positive mentally,” Narwold added. “We’re strong heading to the second half of the season.”

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