Girls volleyball: Gaelettes advance to SCC semifinals

She may only be a junior, but Jessica Foss has turned herself into the emotional leader of the Shelton High girls volleyball team.

When the going got a little bit tough on Tuesday night in the Gaelettes' Southern Connecticut Conference quarterfinal round playoff home match with Hamden, Foss was the igniter.

She was the player who got her team worked up, who put the communication process in motion as Shelton rolled to a 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-18) win over the Green Dragons.

Foss and her team will move on much to the delight of LeAnne Bianchine, their energetic coach.

"I really liked the way we fought back tonight because we seemed to be trailing in every set,” she said. “These kids kinda like the underdog role. They tend to play better when they're behind and have to come back."

The win puts Shelton, the No. 2 seed, into a semifinal round contest against No. 3 Amity in Shelton on Thursday at 5 p.m. The teams have met twice this year. Each time Amity came away with the victory. The Spartans defeated East Haven, 3-0, to advance.

It's the first time since the 2015 season that Shelton has reached the semifinals. The Gaelettes won the SCC title in 2010.

Foss had 25 assists, eight digs and five aces. Liz Casinelli had 10 kills, three digs and an ace, Jessica Jayakar 10 kills, six aces and three digs and Sara DeMarco had two aces, a kill and 15 digs.

In the crucial third set, it took a late rally to corral the Green Dragons who took a 16-10 lead.

An ace by Lily Boles on a ball that just tipped the net and went over made it 19-all. Shelton pushed its lead out to 24-21 on a kill from Clarissa Pierre, only to see Hamden come right back, evening it at 24.

Hamden faulted on a serve and Jayakar won it with an ace.

"This game is so much about being mentally prepared and then communicating on the court," said Foss, a year-round player who had five service aces, 28 assists and eight digs. "We weren't doing much of either early on. We weren't playing with any energy. Coach called a timeout somewhere in the middle of that third game. We got the message and came up fired up."

Behind the superb net play of junior Nailah Grannell, who wound up with 20 kills and six blocked shots, Hamden roared out to a substantial lead in the opening set.

The Gaelettes rallied, pulled even at 16, then battled through to the end before getting the set point on a service ace from Grace Boles.

After falling behind 16-10 in the second set, Shelton again rushed back. It created ties at 20, 21 and 23-all but ended up losing by two.

Shelton's service game was on in the fourth set as they forced receiving errors with accurate and deep serves which the Green Dragons either mishandled directly or couldn't set up passes on.

"Our consistency just wasn't there tonight and neither was our energy level," said Hamden coach Trisha Shugrue. "That's really not acceptable at this time of the year when you're in the postseason. It's something you can fix early on in the season. Now, you can't have your team making those kinds of mistakes."

The loss left the Green Dragons with a 12-10 record. They had reached the quarters by defeating Jonathan Law, 3-2.

Bianchine had this to say about Foss: “I really like the fact that she's only a junior. So, I'll see her again next year. She's simply a force of nature. Somebody said to me after the match, ‘What's wrong with Jessica. Isn't she feeling well?’ I thought about it. Yes, she didn't crash either the bleachers or the scorers' table tonight. Maybe she wasn't feeling that well."