By Steve Rogers
WESTPORT — If only the outcomes of the prior Westport High girls’ team’s volleyball games were like the 3-0 win over Avon High Friday night, the Wildcats would be playoff bound. But not all the other matches ended similarly leaving the Wildcats one tantalizing win short of qualifying for the state tournament.
“I’m already having sleepless nights about it,” Westport coach Kristy Tripp said. “It hurts. I feel bad for our two seniors.”
Westport has eight wins this season heading into its final match, a non-league contest against Bishop Stang Oct. 29. Even if the Wildcats were to upset Stang, which defeated Westport 3-0 earlier in the season, the win would not count toward their playoff-seeding record which is 8-10. Teams need a .500 winning percentage to qualify for states.
“When we started the season I thought we looked pretty good,” Tripp said. “It seems like we’ve had some big, big games against the better teams. When we played them the first time we went three games with them.
“Then the second time we either went four or five games with them so we were able to hang in there. We almost had Sacred Heart. We’ve really been able to turn it on the latter half of the season. It shows our improvement.”
Avon was the victim of that improvement Friday night. The youthful Panthers were able to hang around with the Wildcats for about half of each game before Westport pulled away for 25-13, 25-15 and 25-16 wins. Westport seniors Kristen Duarte and Ashley Turner combined for four aces, 12 kills and four digs.
“Ashley is only a two-year player for us and Kristen is a three-year player,” said Tripp. “If we had them all four years it would have been a huge difference. We got a lot of improvement from them.”
The same pattern emerged in each game with Westport breaking to a 9-4 advantage the first set, an 11-1 lead the second and a 14-4 lead the third set. The visitors, thanks to a handful of rather lackluster Westport mistakes, rallied back to cut their deficit to two points in the opening game and to four points in the other games. Then the Wildcats would resume control and win going away.
“It was one of our easier games,” Duarte said. “Definitely easier than Connolly or teams that are real close to us. I’d rather have an intense five games than three easy games any day. I like it when we volley back and forth, not just free ball, free ball, free ball.”
Turner had three kills in the first game, including the one which stopped Avon’s rally and started a Westport 12-2 run. Turner punched the ball to open space for the final point of the game. Duarte had two kills and two aces during the final spurt and Jen Alves, who was 14-for-15 serving with six aces and seven kills overall, helped guide the Wildcats to their early lead in the game.
“She is definitely one of the all-stars this year,” Tripp said. “Jen came up at the midway point last year from the jayvee and she started to take over a starting role right at the end of last season. Then she worked hard in the offseason so she’s really progressed as a middle hitter.
“She’s smart. She’s not only able to make athletic plays but when you tell her something, each game she just gets a little bit better.”
Brittany Arruda stole the spotlight in the middle game. Westport had a communication problem and let the ball drop to give Avon a 1-0 lead before Sam Silvia’s spike evened the match. That put Arruda on the service line and she proceeded to swat nine consecutive aces to help elevate Westport to a 11-1 lead.
“Brittany always gets on a run,” Duarte said. “She’s got a very good serve. They have a spin to them so their hard to receive for a lot of people.”
Avon got back in the game by going on a 10-4 binge before a Emma Wilkinson kill stopped the Panthers and the Wildcats reciprocated with their own 10-4 spurt to win the game. Nicole Raposa was perfect on five serves, four of them aces, to help Westport close out the contest.
Four Alves’ aces and a kill each from Duarte, Raposa and Turner helped Westport break a 4-4 tie and burst to a 14-4 lead in the final game. After the Panthers drew close Alves had three kills in a game-ending and match-closing 10-5 run.
“We’ve really been getting the offense going the second half of the season,” Tripp said. “The passing and setting have really helped. We’ve been getting a lot of offense from our sophomores.”
Though the Wildcats will not participate in the state tournament this season the future looks bright. After winning only one contest two years ago, Turner and Duarte helped Westport get to within one win of the playoffs this year.
“I’m excited for next year. We only lose two,” Tripp said. “It will be a tough loss but I think we’re in a good place where we’re starting to get a few other kids in their positions where we’ll be able to be all right.”
Khoryn Cote, Wilkinson and Arruda were perfect at the service line while Turner, Alves, Silvia and Raposa missed just one serve each. Westport went 63-for-70 serving (90 percent) with 29 aces. Avon was good from the service line (42-for-46, 91 percent) but just did not have as many attempts because the Wildcats were able to return most of the serves and then win the point.
By Steve Rogers