Jonathan Law spikers choose to believe

The focal point from season’s start to its conclusion for the Jonathan Law High girls volleyball team has had been defense.

Coach Stacy Loch’s Eagles ability to negate their opponent's progress through winning the serve back and blocking shots is what carried Law to a 14-6 regular-season record — followed by a quarter-final round finish in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament.

It was also Loch's belief and her squad’s ability to buy in, which allowed Law to finish with 16 wins, only three less than the team had accounted for over its last three seasons.

It's return to state tournament play was its first in those three years. A first-round 3-1 victory over Masuk of Monroe earned the Eagles a trip to the second-round, where they team dropped a 3-0 decision (set scores of 25-15, 25-23 and 25-20) on the road to N. 6 seed Avon.

Law defeated Masuk on Nov. 7 by set scores of 25-13, 25-19, 20-25 and pulled out an extra-point 28-26 victory to eliminate a very determined and much-improved team which came in as the No. 22 seed with a regular-season record of 9-11.

"We worked from the start of this season to build a cohesive team," said Loch, the team's head coach since 2009. "We knew that we weren't going to be an offensive powerhouse. The key to our defense is getting to that first ball off the serve; saving it, then passing to the net. If you're not really strong at the net, and it's something that we can work on because we have good juniors in the middle, then you have to work from the back forward."

A big key, according to Loch, was the team's loss to Shelton in the SCC's quarter-final round. "We learned from that match," Loch said. "They outplayed and outsmarted us. Our kids were down afterward, but we rebounded. In any sport, you must learn from your mistakes."

Law came out strong against Masuk, winning the first set by 12 points and the second by six, to build up a commanding 2-0 lead and put their opponent on the defensive."

"We came in here knowing that we had to minimize our mistakes," said Masuk coach Bryan Cuomo. "But, I'll tell you, this (Law) team passing was lights out in this gym tonight. They're a great defensive team. I'm wondering how many digs they had. They really limited us at times, taking away our offensive play."

Even down 2-0, however, the Panthers weren't out to go away in three sets.

Led by senior middle-hitter Chloe Pizzolate (12 kills, two blocked shot and four service aces) and the serving and defensive play of sophomore Maria Castro-Rodriquez (45 digs and seven service aces), Masuk surged back. The Panthers never trailed during the set. They rolled out to an 8-1 lead, based in part on a four-serve run by Castro-Rodriquez, eventually pushing it to a 24-14 margin before Law chipped away. The closest that the Eagles could get was 23-18 on a side-out error by the Panthers whose 25-20 victory extended the match and their season.

With momentum now on their side, the Panthers battled hard. They did relinquish the lead at 6-5 and were never able to get it back. They were persistent though, drawing even four times down the stretch. The last deadlock at 26-26 proved to be the turning point.

Law moved ahead off a service-point win by one of its four seniors, Kirstin Frank and it was Frank's kill off a saved dig and pass to put the match away. Frank finished with a monster game that included 41 assists along with 10 digs. Her fellow seniors' numbers were equally as impressive. Angela Sciuto had 13 kills and 13 digs; Cassidy Boath had 21 digs and Tori Contaxis had 13 digs.

Loch's juniors also played a pivotal part in the victory. Middle hitter Shawna Winters had 10 kills to go along with seven digs; Stephanie Felag had two blocks and eight digs; Olivia Keator had 11 digs and Colleen Goodwin had seven kills and three blocks.