Girls volleyball: Lady Lawmen sweep way into state semis

For the first time in nine years, the Jonathan Law girls volleyball team will be making an appearance in the CIAC Class M semifinals.

The No. 11 seeded Lady Lawmen used a strong defense and worked its offense to perfection at times to post a 3-0 road win over No. 3 seed Nonnewaug Regional Friday afternoon in Woodbury.

Law had set wins of 25-8, 25-18 and 25-23 in moving on to the semis, where it will take on No. 18 seed Weston, a 3-2 winner over No. 7 seed Granby, on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

En route to the semis, Law hasn't lost a set and has beaten two higher-ranked teams (No. 6 Prince Tech) on the road. Law opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over Bethel, the No. 22 seed.

This marks the third time that coach Stacy Loch, now in her 12th season, has taken a team to the semis or beyond. Her 2008 team reached the Class M finals before being shut out by RHAM of Hebron.

"This is big not only for the program, but for the school," Loch said after her squad improved to 18-6. "For most of these kids, who had made it into the second round the past two years only to be beaten, it's like a dream. They're a fantastic group. They have so much drive."

It was Law's defense, led by libero and senior co-captain Pam Ellison (13 digs), that ignited the team early on.

The Lady Lawmen ran out to a 7-0 lead behind the opening service of junior Eryn Mower and pulled ahead from there. A service ace by Katie McNellis gave Law an 18-4 advantage in a set that finished 25-8.

"We were never able to get untracked early on," said Nonnewaug coach Martin Malaspina after her team closed out 14-3. "It's unfortunate and sad for this team. Law's a very good team, there's no question about that. I think that we never gave ourselves a chance to show the talents that we have."

The Chiefs did manage to rebound in the second set, grabbing a 3-2 lead before Law shut the door once again. Up 8-6, Law went on the attack. Highlighted by pair of kills from senior co-captain Katie Eighmy and one from Alexis Neider, the Lady Lawmen reeled off five straight points.

The closest that the Chiefs could get was two, 17-15. But Law outscored their opponents 8-3 down the stretch for a 25-18 win and a two-set advantage.

"Even when we've been down and an opponent has made a run, we seem to find a way to fight back," Ellison said. "The key to our defense is that someone is always backing someone else up. We communicate. We talk. We're always giving each other emotional lifts."

Nonnewaug put together a good serving and passing game in the third and deciding set. The Chiefs took the lead at 7-3 off the serving of Phoebe Hale.

But once again, the Lady Lawmen charged back.

A service ace by Eighmy drew them even at 8-8.

Law led 17-12 before the Chiefs pulled even at 21 on an ace from Abby Scheurich and at 22 when Megan Andrew tipped a shot past a Law defender.

But Mower's spike down the left side line was in as Law went up 24-22. The Lady Lawmen gave up a point (24-23) before closing out the match by forcing Nonnewaug into an error.

"We came in here confident, but not cocky," Loch said. "I'm always telling these kids that a match can turn at any time. When they challenged us in those second two sets, we might've given them a little room, but then we shut it back down again."

Offensively, Law was led by Eighmy who had a game-high seven kills.

Sophomore Madi Lula was close behind with six. Four of them came in the deciding set.

Mower had 11 assist and two digs.

McNellis was also sharp on defense with six digs.

For Nonnewaug, Ally Codianna had seven kills and Sarah Maclean had 11 assists.