Volleyball

Westhill Sweeps Ludlowe To Reach State Final For First Time In 33 Years

Westhill’s Betsy Sachs blocks a shot by Ludlowe’s Amy Lumaj. (Mark Conrad)

DARIEN — After losing a five-set match to Fairfield Ludlowe for the FCIAC championship, the members of the Westhill volleyball team saw a path to revenge.

First, win three matches to get to the semifinals of the Class LL tournament, earning a likely rematch with the Falcons. Next, erase the passivity the Vikings felt cost them the title.

“We had some unfinished business to do,” said Westhill captain Betsy Sachs. “We’ve been practicing. We played them two other times so we knew exactly what to do.”

Playing with a fury at net and digging up everything on their side of the court, the Vikings were the exact opposite of passive, dominating the first two sets and rallying in the third for a 3-0 sweep (25-13, 25-13, 26-24).

Westhill’s Gloria Twum and Sanjana Nayak (8) celebrate after the final point of the match. (Mark Conrad)

It was the first time Ludlowe did not win a set all season.

“Because of what happened last week there was no holding back today,” Westhill coach Marianna Linnehan said. “They just wanted it so much. Tonight was a whole different story. We were winning. We didn’t care how we did it but we were not losing.”

The third-seeded Vikings (23-4) reached the final for the first time in 33 years. Their last title was in 1980.

They will face No. 8 Trumbull (20-4) Saturday night at East Haven. Westhill won their meeting two weeks ago, rallying from two sets down in the semifinals of the FCIAC tournament. The Eagles won the teams’ regular-season meeting.

Ludlowe’s Margaret Nolan delivers a serve. (Mark Conrad)

Playing what Linnehan said was their best match of the season, the Vikings were unstoppable in the first two sets, never trailing. Ahead by 12-10, Vana Servos and Gloria Twum went on long service runs to open up a big lead. A kill by Twum closed out the set.

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“We were definitely more aggressive at the net,” Sachs said. “Outside, Gloria was killing it. She was hitting hard and they couldn’t pick it up.”

Twum was all over the court, finishing with nine kills, 10 service points, six digs, five aces and two assists.

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Westhill’s Vana Servos (11) and Tamar Bellete go up to try and get a block. (Mark Conrad)

“Gloria was phenomenal,” Linnehan said. “I told her I would give her MVP for this game. Betsy too. They all did great. It was their goal. They were so focused.”

Westhill jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the second set and again was never threatened. Its relentless play caused unforced errors and never let Ludlowe develop a rhythm.

“A lot of the playoffs they’ve been playing like this,” Linnehan said. “They’re just totally focused now. They are playing better than ever.”

Westhill’s Maddy Bautista makes a pass from the back row. (Mark Conrad)

The Falcons (22-4), seeded seventh, got their first lead on the first point of the final set and was able to run their offense. They led by five points several times, but they could not shake the Vikings.

“Once you’re down it’s hard to come back so we knew we had to win the set or it would be a lot more difficult,” Sachs said. “When they hit 20 it was like this game is almost over. They’re not taking it from us.”

Westhill got within 18-17 before a kill by Jackie Soderlund and a block by Jane Ransome (five kills) brought the Falcons to set point at 24-20.

Westhill celebrates its first trip to a state final since 1986.

Twum served the Vikings to five straight points, aided by a soft Sachs hit off a block and a kill by Sophia Thagouras (five kills, five service points, 11 assists).

Maddie Corbett staved off match point with a kill for Ludlowe, but a demonstrative hit by Sachs (11 kills, 10 service points, five digs, three blocks, three aces) and a Ludlowe error closed out the match.

Asked if this was the Vikings’ top effort of the season, Sachs smiled.

“Lets see it on Saturday,” she said. “We want it so bad. We’ve been pushing to get there but our real dream is to win it.”