The Shelton High girls volleyball team came a long way since last year’s seven-win season, and the locals almost took a large leap in its progression in the first round of the Class LL state tournament Monday night.
The 14th-seeded Gaelettes took visiting Trumbull High to the limit before falling in the deciding fifth game 15-10 for a 3-2 loss (25-20, 16-25, 25-18, 19-25).
Shelton (13-7) battled throughout, matching the experienced 19th-seeded Eagles’ strong hitting and solid defense.
Senior outside hitter Francesca Testani (15 digs and 9 kills) and junior outside hitter Dominika Marczak (14 kills and 8 digs) impressed on offense and defense, while junior libero Gina Orazietti’s nine aces and 16 digs provided an emotional spark for the Gaelettes.
“I usually don’t talk to the girls after games, but I made a point to say thank you to them tonight,” Shelton coach LeAnne Bianchine said.
“I thanked them for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, pulling us out of the dumps and getting us back to the second round of the SCC tournament and back in the state tournament.”
The Gaelettes were in trouble early, as Trumbull (11-8) ran out to 9-2 lead.
Marczak and senior Kristen Sewell scored to chip away at the Trumbull lead, before Orazietti thrust Shelton back into the game with three straight aces to cut the lead to 18-16.
Senior Nicole Beard (23 assists) set Testani and Sewell to a 20-20 tie.
However, just as Orazietti pulled Shelton back into the game, Trumbull’s Kristen Peterson closed the door with three sharp serves to seal the 25-20 win.
Shelton stepped up its defense in the second game to get out ahead of the Eagles.
An injury to sophomore Nicole Roberts forced Sewell to take some turns at the backline, and the veteran delivered stingy defense, along with juniors Brooke Grand and Victoria Demko and Orazietti the backcourt.
Junior Cassidy Kalinowski was solid at the net to help the Gaelettes to an early 6-3 lead.
Orazietti then put the locals in a commanding position with five service points, including three straight aces, for an 11-3 lead.
Trumbull responded with a six-point streak led by sharp serves, but Shelton refused to lose its cool.
Marczak, Testani and Sewell notched kills at the end of long rallies, including a well-placed push from the back line by Testani that caught the Trumbull defense flat-footed, for a 20-11 lead.
Two kills and a resounding block from Marczak gave Shelton the 25-16 win.
Shelton again fell behind early in the third game, before well-placed tips from Beard and Sewell brought them back to within one point of the lead at 11-10.
Peterson again gave Trumbull some breathing room with three service points, but Shelton stayed within striking distance thanks to solid serves from Beard and a booming spike from Marczak on the left side.
The Gaelettes suffered some communications issues against the serve, and Trumbull took advantage by scoring three service points on the way to a 25-18 win in game three.
The teams kept the score close to start the fourth game, but Shelton seized control with two service points by Brand and back-to-back blocks from Sewell and Testani to take a 9-3 lead.
The Gaelettes held a slight advantage throughout, making Trumbull earn every score and forcing hitting errors to build a 22-15 lead.
Peterson did her best to spur a late rally with a pair of aces, but Marczak delivered a kill and hit the court for a great dig that led to a spike by Testani and a 25-19 win for Shelton in game four.
The teams played to six ties in the deciding game, before Trumbull cracked the Shelton defense for two aces.
The Eagles then managed to push the ball into holes in the Gaelette defense to take a late four-point lead on its way to the 15-10 win.
It was a tough finish for Bianchine, but she believes her team laid down the groundwork for an impressive future.
“We played hard and did what we could, but next year we’ll be ready,” she said. “My underclassmen are very good and I’m confident that they are going to say ‘that’s it’ and will practice all during the offseason.
“I’m looking forward to the next three years. The freshman team went 10-0 and they are big and strong. So, it’s exciting. We have a bright future ahead of us.
“I’m very happy with what we have accomplished this year after coming out of last year and being a nobody. We are starting to put ourselves back on the map.”