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VOLLEYBALL: Once more into the breach! Rams return to state quarterfinals with sweep of Shelton

CHESHIRE — On Thursday night, in the second round of the CIAC Class LL state volleyball tournament, the No. 8-seeded Cheshire Rams faced off against No. 9 Shelton and ended their SCC rival’s season in straight sets.

Game scores were 25-16, 25-16 and 25-21.

In the first round of the tournament, Cheshire defeated No. 25 seed Stamford in straight sets.

“The tournament is survive and advance,” Cheshire head coach Sue Bavone said. “We’re always happy to be playing another game.”

That game comes Saturday night, when the Rams (21-4) hit the road to take on No. 1 seed and defending champion Darien.

In the last decade, Cheshire has missed the quarterfinals of the state tournament only once. That was back in 2019, when the Rams lost to Trumbull in straight sets in the second round.

On the other end of the tournament success spectrum, the Gaels were looking for only their second quarterfinal appearance in the last decade.

They got halfway there, sweeping No. 24 Kennedy in the first round before running into Cheshire in the second.

The Rams started the first set by getting out to a quick three-point lead before the Gaels could respond. 

Later in the set, with her team down 11-3, Shelton coach LeAnne Bianchine called a timeout to try to calm her team down. But the Rams didn’t slow down, continuing to pressure the Gaels.

Senior outside hitter Emma Danaher finished the set with five kills and a block. Danaher would finish tied with junior outside hitter Eva Catalanotto for the team lead in kills, each registering nine.

Although the Rams won the first set 25-16, Shelton never let them get on massive runs. The most consecutive points Shelton surrendered was four. However, the Gaels let it happen twice.

Starting the second set, with senior setter and captain Mary Nugent serving, the Rams went on a 10-0 run, which included two aces from Nugent. Catalanotto continued to make her presence felt, registering six of her nine kills in the set. 

Along with being an efficient server all night, Nugent was more than adept at feeding her teammates. She finished the match with 16 assists.

After the Rams claimed the second set, also by a score of 25-16, Bianchine rallied her Shelton troops, trying at all costs to avoid the sweep. 

The Gaels were first on the board in the third set, getting out to a 3-0 lead and having an extra pep in their step. 

“We fully expected them to come out strong in the third game,” Bavone said. “No team wants their season to end at this point. I would expect the same from my players.”

With her team down 8-2, Bavone called a timeout to let players, most of whom don’t have tournament experience prior to this year, collect themselves.

Catalanotto is one of the few players on the team with prior tournament experience,and Bavone looked to her to help calm her teammates' nerves.

“She has had experience in this type of game,” Bavone said. “As long as she’s calm, I think the rest of the team will follow that lead.”

While they never went on big runs, the Gaels led for nearly the entire set. Cheshire junior outside hitter Katarina Pawlak, however, helped the Rams avoid falling into too big of a point deficit.

“She came up with some big kills,” Bavone said. “She came up with kills when we needed stops.”

The Rams caught Shelton at 15, took a 16-15 lead and finshed the set and sweep 25-21, sealing their ticket to the quarterfinals.

While Cheshire was bumping Shelton, No. 1 Darien eliminated No. 16 Brien McMahon in straight sets. 

The Blue Wave are undefeated, sitting at 23-0, having lost only four sets so far this season.

“The only thing we can do is play our game and we’ll see what happens,” Bavone said.

The Rams will try for the upset at Darien on Saturday at 6 p.m.


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