FAIRFIELD — It is one of the unique characteristics of volleyball. A team can’t get aggressive on offense without first possessing a great defense. That was the approach Greenwich used today against St. Joseph, and that is why the Cardinals are now the 2017 FCIAC girls volleyball champions.
Greenwich’s aggressiveness proved too much for the top-seeded Cadets, who had won 20 consecutive matches. Led by MVP Maggy Egan and hitter Tara Ford, the Cardinals won the conference championship for the second time in program history and the first since 2013 in a surprising straight-set victory at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
“Our defense is one of the best in the state and that allowed us to set up and make perfect passes,” Egan said after Greenwich swept the Cadets, 25-20, 25-15 and 25-18. “Our defense was the key.”
That, of course, also means the Cardinals’ offense was the key. Greenwich (19-4), the No. 2 seed, was clearly proactive throughout the shorter-than-expected contest and that left St. Joseph (21-2) in a more defensive, or reactive, mode.
“We were on our heels all day,” St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau noted.
Greenwich, which has now won 15 in a row after a 4-4 start to the season, played the role of aggressor right from the start, taking a 9-3 lead in the first set. And the Cards never backed down.
“We played inspired volleyball today,” Greenwich coach Steve Lapham said. “We knew St. Joe’s would win the net battle so we had to serve and play good defense.”
St. Joseph had the taller front line, led by Bridget Fatse, Christina Crocco and Jenna Koonitsky. But Fatse, who was playing with a broken finger suffered in Monday’s quarterfinals, and Crocco were held to eight kills each, while the freshman Koonitsky had seven. It was obvious the Cadets were, as Babineau explained, playing on their heels.
Meanwhile, it was the Cardinals who dominated around the net. Egan had 23 kills and Ford added 19.
“We used all of our talents today,” Ford said. “We knew it would be a fight against St. Joe’s so we focused on our serves and keeping them on the defensive.”
Serves were a major part of the victory, especially in the third set. Before that, though, the Cardinals fought off a Cadet charge in the opener when that early 9-3 lead became 17-16. Then in the second set, St. Joseph got up quickly, 3-0, but, as was the case all afternoon, was unable to build any momentum.
Greenwich turned it around and went ahead 9-6 and then 20-13 before finishing off the 25-15 win.
Then came the third set, better known as Maggy Egan’s set.
“Maggy was just amazing with her serves, especially in the third set,” Lapham said. “It was very important that (St. Joseph’s Crocco) didn’t (receive serves).”
Egan served for the first three points of the set to give the Cards a 3-0 lead. Then, at 10-6, she served for five points in a row to make it 15-6. Finally, with Greenwich ahead, 23-18, it was Egan serving for the final two points. None of her serves went to Crocco and most of her serves were not returned by the Cadets, although she was only credited with two aces.
“I served to spots to try to avoid the stronger players” Egan said. “It’s not about how hard you hit it, but where you hit it.”
The celebration afterwards was not just about earning the school’s first FCIAC title in four years. It was about beating St. Joseph, a team that defeated Greenwich twice during the regular season (3-0 on Sept. 8 and 3-2 on Sept 27).
“It’s the best feeling,” Egan said. “There was so much energy in this gym today. This was one of my best games ever but it was that energy that made me want to win so badly.”
The euphoria on the Greenwich side was the polar opposite from the feelings experienced by St. Joseph. The Cadets have been FCIAC runners-up four times now, with no championships.
“It’s very disappointing,” Babineau said. “We expected to be here and to lose is disappointing. But Greenwich came to play and we didn’t.”
Grace Vocalina had 23 assists for St. Joseph while Crocco added one block and Fatse had one ace.
Nicole Wood had 45 assists and two aces for Greenwich and Adnerys De Jesus had 26 digs.
NOTES: St. Joseph’s only loss before Saturday was a 3-2 decision to Trumbull on Sept. 11. … Besides the two losses to St. Joseph, Greenwich also suffered defeats to RHAM and Brien McMahon. … Besides the two titles in the last five years, Greenwich was FCIAC runner-up in 2007, 2008 and 2009. … Greenwich opens Class LL state tournament play Monday as the No. 6 seed at home against No. 27 Darien at 4:30 p.m. St. Joseph, the No. 1 seed in Class M, has a first-round bye and will face either No. 16 Prince or No. 17 Tolland at home Wednesday at 6 p.m.