STRATFORD—Over the first four volleyball sets of Tuesday night’s cross-town showdown between Stratford and host Bunnell, only one point separated the two teams.
It was at that point that Red Devils senior Rachel Newall knew she needed to give her team some breathing room.
In the first-to-15, Game 5 set to decide the match, Newall served five of her 11 service points, giving the Red Devils some space and sparking Stratford to a 26-24, 27-29, 22-25, 25-21, 15-7 victory over the Bulldogs.
“It just felt like I was having a big impact on my team and that everything was going to be fine,” Newall said. “It let us catch our breath and relax for a minute. It was like, ok, we got this.”
Stratford—which has only one returning varsity player from last year’s 17-3 team—moved to 2-0 on the season.
Bunnell slipped to 0-2, 0-1 in league play.
“I wanted this game to start (SWC play). This isn’t a bad game to start,” Bunnell first-year head coach Dan Romaniello said. “It gave them a fire in their bellies. It’s a new team and a new attitude.”
After Stratford took the first set 26-24, Bunnell showed what that new attitude brings to the court this season as the Bulldogs won the next two games to take a 2-1 lead.
Stratford was able to the right ship in the fourth game to force the deciding set.
“I’m glad we didn’t just fall down and let Bunnell take the night away from us,” Stratford coach Lisa Buccieri said. “I just told them, ‘We have to go out there and the team that wants it the most comes out of here with the win.’ Bunnell wanted this so bad because we’d beaten them last year, and the year before, but (my team) said they wanted it, too, and showed they did.”
Getting out to a quick start in the decisive game was the key to the win.
“We communicated every hit and every block, and we just came together and that’s why we won,” Newall said.
Julie Carbone’s quick-hitter over the net during a set attempt clinched the win.
Bunnell was dogged all game by its service return, falling behind early before finding its groove, which concerned Romaniello entering the final stanza.
“I knew it would be tough in Game 5,” he said. “As you saw in the first couple of games, our service return takes five or six points to get going. When you do that in a 15-point game, you don’t have room for those misses.”
As much heart as Stratford showed in pulling out the win, though, Bunnell matched it blow for blow.
The Bulldogs trailed 24-20 in Game 2 before storming back to tie the match.
“The true grit just showed in that second game,” Romaniello said. “To come back and win by two points like that shows they don’t give up.”
The Bulldogs—who were two-time Class L state volleyball champs as recently as 2005-06—struggled last year, winning just five games.
“I think as a team for sure the message is just to keep pushing, no matter,” said Bunnell senior setter Ava Almeida. “Just fighting for every ball, and push. Push, push, push, no matter what. You have to have that positive mindset.”
Sami Perley led the Stratford charge with 16 kills, 16 service points, 15 digs and 10 assists. Sydney Ritchie added 12 kills and 9 digs to go with 20 assists.
Rachel Gripp added 10 kills while Newall had 10 digs.
For Bunnell, Mariana Trovarelli and Emma Soloman had 14 kills each. Emma Kusick added 10 more with Mia Noisette adding nine.
Courtney Stewart and Trovarelli had five digs each while Almeida had four digs in addition to a bevy of assists. Kayla Sokunle also had four digs.
Bunnell plays at Masuk on Thursday (6:15 p.m.) and at Brookfield on Saturday (12 p.m.).
The Red Devils host Bassick on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
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