Boys volleyball: Gaels swept by Panthers

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Matt Wojslaw returns a shot against Masuk. — Andy Hutchison photo

Having beaten Masuk in a five-game thriller for its last win, back on April 20, Shelton High’s boys volleyball team members knew it wouldn’t be an easy task to shake a three-match losing streak in a rematch with the Panthers, on Wednesday.

Add to the equation the fact the Gaels haven’t had their full lineup available in practice leading up to the match because of school activities and illness impacting the roster, and the result was a three-game defeat as the Gaels fell to 4-7 overall.

“We just haven’t been able to practice together as a team and that hurts,” Shelton coach LeAnne Bianchine said after Masuk won 3-0 (25-16, 25-16, 25-23).

Shelton’s Jarrett McCurdy had eight kills and five digs, Jimmy Hunter had five kills and six digs, and Tyler Nolan added four digs.

The Gaels didn’t give up in the final game of the match, and Bianchine is optimistic her squad can build off that effort.

“I’m proud of them not giving up,” Bianchine said. “I like that they hung in there and they stuck it out ’til the end.”

Masuk built leads of 6-0 and 13-7 in the third game but the Gaels wouldn’t back away. Hunter capped a 4-0 run with consecutive kills by Hunter, a booming hit followed by a soft-touch kill that landed between Masuk’s front and back rows.

The Panthers climbed back ahead by seven and were two points away from closing out the match when Shelton scored six unanswered points to pull to within 23-22.

Matt Wojslaw had a block/kill at the net for a point before an errant Masuk return capped the run.

After Masuk’s Alex Barrett had a kill, Shelton stayed alive for one more point, on a Wojslaw kill, but then Barrett closed the door with another point.

“We try and keep our heads in the game as much as possible,” said captain Joe Niski, who had a nicely-placed hit for a point during Shelton’s late-game rally.

“They just have to be more aggressive and get back out there. They have to serve aggressively and make good passes,” Bianchine said.

Bianchine said an improved serve-receive game will go a long way in setting up quality hitting opportunities. “From there we can run an offense,” she said.

Masuk coach Jon Mercado thought a significant factor in his team winning this meeting was the defensive approach the Panthers took.

“We really focused on taking away their strengths,” said Mercado, adding that the game plan was to use a defensive strategy to prevent Shelton’s middle hitters from racking up easy points as they did in the first meeting of the year. “We really focused on trying to shut them down.”

“We’re just trying to get back in the swing of things. We hit a little rough patch,” said Hunter, a captain.

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