New Canaan’s Josie Matyszewski sends a shot back at the Brien McMahon Senators during a volleyball match on Oct. 12. — Dave Stewart photo
The New Canaan Rams were trailing 14-4 in the third set of their volleyball match at Brien McMahon when head coach Kevin Marino called a timeout to talk to his team. As it turns out, the coach didn’t have to say much.
Senior co-captain Emma Wheeler delivered a speech which fired up the Rams, who erased the 10-point deficit and won the third set as part of a 3-1 match victory over the host Senators on Friday night in Norwalk.
New Canaan’s VeNae Rosdahl goes up for a block. — Dave Stewart photo
The victory clinched a state tournament berth for the Rams (8-6 overall, 8-3 FCIAC), who own a four-match win streak and have won five of their last seven contests.
The third set featured a dramatic momentum shift for New Canaan, which seemed on the verge of falling behind 2-1 before they rallied to win the set.
“That was just an attitude adjustment we had to make,” Marino said. “We got a little bit complacent and then we and a great speech from one or our captains who just told us to change our face. She said we have to be more positive and we have to get better on the court. That made all the difference for us and this team just fights.”
“I just said that what the bench does and what the bench looks like effects the six girls on the court a lot more than they think,” Wheeler said. “It’s discouraging to see the bench look down and it feels like, to the six on the course, that they don’t have faith in us. Even if you’re not on the court, you still have a really important role to pay for the team.”
The Rams clearly turned it up a notch as a team, as the bench was loud and the play shifted in their favor. After the timeout, New Canaan won eight consecutive points to close the gap to three.
Although the Senators still held the edge a while longer, the Rams finished the set on a 4-2 run to get the win, eventually taking the match 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, and 25-21.
After a rough start which saw them drop four of their first five matches, the Rams are now on a roll and back in the postseason which a shot at the FCIAC playoffs as well.
“It feels really good,” Wheeler said of qualifying for the states. “We had a really rough start to our season, which was pretty discouraging. But we came back and we’re doing a lot better than we expected.”
The Rams close out a third-set comeback during Friday’s volleyball match at Brien McMahon HS
As has been the case with the team this season, the Rams received a little bit of help from everyone.
Wheeler had a great night with 17 assists, 14 digs, 5 aces, and 3 kills, and senior hitter Josie Matyszewski collected eight kills, and five digs.
Senior co-captain Julia Salvatore (16 digs) and sophomores Emily Johnson (21 digs) and Alex Gillespie (8 digs, 4 kills, 2 aces) came up big, especially on the defensive side, and junior Ally Leopold (4 kills, 2 blocks, 2 digs) was solid as well.
“Emma sets and hit for us, so we get a lot from her, but this year we don’t have someone getting 15 or 20 kills a game,” Marino said. “It’s eight here and six there, so we really are trying to piece together more of a team.”
Last year, when the Rams qualified for FCIACs and states, the team had All-Stater Carson Allsteadt leading the way. This year, Allsteadt a freshman and Washington & Lee, but despite her absence, New Canaan is back in the playoffs.
“This year is a year to prove ourselves,” Wheeler said. “Even though Carson was a huge thing for our team last year, we wanted to prove that we can do it without her. There are a lot of other aspects to volleyball besides offense and this year, we strengthened our defense which has played a really big role in our games and our wins.”
New Canaan’s Alex Gillespie (10) and Ally Leopold (9) attempt to block a shot during a volleyball match at Brien McMahon on Oct, 12. — Dave Stewart photo
New Canaan took the first set against McMahon by six points 25-19, but the Senators came back to win the second 25-22, tying the match at 1-1.
When McMahon burst in front by 10 in the third set, the match started to have an ominous feel for the Rams. But the rally, which featured several wild points on which New Canaan simply wouldn’t let the ball drop, but the Rams back in the driver’s seat as they won 25-23.
They then took the third set 25-21 to nail down the win.
“We’re super hot and cold, so when we’re hot, we’re hot, but when we’re cold, it’s ice cold,” Marino said. “So, when the momentum shifts for us, we’ve normally done a good job of keeping it and closing it out.”
New Canaan will now host rival Darien in another FCIAC showdown at 5:30 p.m., Monday. The Wave topped the Rams 3-0 at DHS in an early-season match, so this next contest is a chance for New Canaan to show how far it’s come.
“I’m really excited for that and I definitely think we can win,” Wheeler said. “Darien’s obviously ranked higher than us in FCIACs, but that’s only a number. We’re really motivated and every single person on the team is motivated to come back and show them what we can do.”
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