Girls volleyball: Shelton outlasts NFA in Class LL

The Shelton High girls volleyball team staved off an upset bid from Norwich Free Academy on Monday night in the first round of the Class LL state tournament at Murray Gymnasium.

The No. 26 seed Wildcats took the seventh-seeded Gaelettes to the brink, fighting off a pair of fifth-game match points before Shelton prevailed 3-2 (25-21, 24-26, 25-15, 21-25, 16-14).

“I kept telling them it’s up to you now, the game is on you,” Shelton head coach LeAnne Bianchine said. “You know who the hitters are, stay in control… Stay focused and stay in control, I think we did a good job of that.”

Jessica Jayakar, who served out the victory in game five, powered the Gaelettes with 18 kills and 15 digs. Sara DeMarco notched 34 digs, two aces and one kills and Jess Foss added five aces, 14 digs, one kill and 34 aces.

Maya Conley led NFA with 31 digs and 12 kills; Eliana Jenell had 22 digs and 13 kills and Bella Llano chipped in with three aces, 11 digs, three kills and 20 assists.

Shelton will host No. 10 seed Amity High of Woodbridge (17-6) on Thursday in a second-round matchup.

“For both teams, just a fantastic match,” Bianchine said. “They gave us a run, they made us work. And it’s good because we’re going at Amity for the fourth time on Thursday. After four times, we’ve got to go catch them.

The Spartans have defeated Shelton three times this season, twice in the regular season and again last week in the semifinals of the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament.

Facing NFA (8-13), Shelton looked to be on its way after a resounding 25-15 win in game three. A kill by Reem Abdel-Hack gave the Gaelettes a 13-9 edge, sparking a 13-6 run to close out the game. Jayaker, Clarissa Pierre and Elizabeth Casinelli provided the last three points, before the Wildcats dug in for game four.

Service miscues plagued Shelton during the fourth game, helping NFA to force the winner-takes-all fifth set.

“Serving has been a little bit of an issue… We play really great like we did in game three, then disappear in game four,” Bianchine said.

The Wildcats jumped out to a 6-3 advantage in game five, forcing Bianchine to call a timeout. An ace from Eliana Jewell then made it 11-8 NFA, leading to another Shelton timeout. Pierre responded by winning serve back, with the Gaelettes pulling even at 11 on DeMarco’s trip to the service line. NFA took its final lead at 12-11, before Abdel-Hack’s block capped a three-point burst for Shelton. The Wildcats showed their grit by tying it at 14, but Shelton was able to withstand the upset bid with two more points.

“They stay together always and they got it done,” Bianchine said.