Any team can look good when they are winning. It’s how they respond to adversity that shows their true character. The Shelton girls volleyball team started out the season 5-0 on their way to claiming a spot in the state and league tournament, something that eluded them last year.
Then came the bump in the road as the Gaelettes went into a tailspin dropping three straight. Since October started, it appears Shelton has shrugged off the minor setback and is back in the flow of things after winning three straight matches by 3-0 shutout margins.
On Monday, the 9-3 Gaelettes made it four in a row with another 3-0 sweep and this time they made it look easy against Hillhouse, winning 25-10, 25-8 and 25-18.
“We have now qualified for both the states and the SCC tournament and we are very excited about that,” said Shelton head coach LeAnne Bianchine. “Last year we didn’t make either one and we are only half way through the season.”
Shelton came out in business-like fashion and quickly put the Academics on notice. Kendall Kreager and Casey O’Connor were a force at the net. The aggressive play of Victoria Demko and Mackenzie Bures added to the production up front, as Shelton got out to a commanding 16-7 advantage in game one.
Jillian Ortoli patrolled the back line with Grace Tokarski, setting up the hits in the middle row as the game got out of hand with Shelton controlling the play down the stretch in a 25-10 win.
“It’s really been a combined effort with the leadership from our seniors and the experience of our juniors,” said Bianchine. “We are forming a very tight knit group and everyone is playing their role.”
The Shelton lineup is showing signs of having many interchangeable parts. Every time Bianchine goes to the bench, the team doesn’t miss a beat. Carly Nicholas has shown a knack of working her way to the net and coming up with big plays in key situations.
In game two, Saara Vohra served up the lead that Shelton would not relinquish. The slim 5-4 advantage quickly become a 9-5 lead when Danielle Kreitler knocked down a few service winners.
Bures took over serve and buckled the knees of the Academics by going on a game-changing 14-point run aided by five aces to build an insurmountable 23-7 advantage. Mackenzie Curley delivered game point and an unforced Hillhouse error put the final point on the board in a 25-8 win.
“Everyone is doing their job and playing as a unit out on the court,” Bianchine said. “Vicky Demko is only five-foot-four and she has been coming up with big hits on the outside. They all have a role and they are all performing well.”
Nicole Whalley, Natalie Ferris and Jessica Orazietti came on in game three to try and stem the tide as Hillhouse went all out to try and get back in the contest. The Academics battled back from a 20-9 deficit with Shaylen Haywood serving up a six-point run.
But it was too little too late, as Vohra served out the win with Kreager assisting Kreitler on game point for the three-game sweep.
“I think when we went through that brief slide a few weeks ago they realized that last year they didn’t respond and it fell apart,” said Bianchine. “But this time they stayed focused, they didn’t get down and they started finishing games the way that I wanted them to.
“They are playing with a lot of confidence. Even the games we lost we are pushing other teams and fighting till the end. This team competes and that’s what I love about them the most.”
Shelton will face a strong test this week when it travels to Lyman Hall in Wallingford on Wednesday and will be at Sheehan High on Friday. They host Cheshire next Monday.