Following a hard-fought 3-2 win over Trumbull on Monday evening, Norwalk'a volleyball players struggled to contain their enthusiasm. "I can't believe we're 3-0," one player said softly as the team members gathered for post-game celebratory pep talk.
The reason for all of the excitement? The Bears won only four matches during all of last season. Not only does Norwalk stand to improve on last year's mark, but the Bears are already thinking about the prospect of playing in the state tournament.
"It feels awesome. It's a big deal for us. We're proud of what we've done," senior Antonella Crudele said.
The reason for the turnaround, coach Chanel Gardiner explained, is that the players came to the court with lots of experience from offseason camps. She specifically pointed to the efforts of seniors Crudele, Sophie Laravoy and Nicole Boeckle whom, she said, all play year round.
"If we keep playing the way we play and we play as a team and stay focused, without a doubt, we'll reach states," Gardiner said.
"I believe we can go to states. If we push hard and if we fight and play like we can, I believe we can make it," Crudele added.
The Bears pushed and fought their way to the five-game win over Trumbull with the kind of hard work it'll take to get into the postseason. Norwalk prevailed 23-25, 27-25, 25-15, 23-25, 15-8 in a back-and-forth match against the visiting Eagles.
Even in the game four loss, Norwalk showed its mettle. The Bears fell behind 17-11 before reeling off eight straight points, capped by a nice sequence by Laravoy who made a save to keep the ball off the floor and, a touch later, slammed the ball over the net. Trumbull answered with the next three points to reclaim the lead and the game remained close to the finish before the Eagles pulled it out.
In the fifth and decisive game, Alexis Noonan came up with a big block at the net which led to the first point, had a kill for a 2-0 lead, then had the wherewithal to let an errant hit go by and quickly turn and play a ball off the net leading to another point. She then spiked the ball for another kill to help Norwalk build a commanding 7-0 lead. Christina Franco made a nice save to keep a volley going, leading to another point and, after Trumbull made a run, Crudele came up with a clutch block at the net and later finished off the match with a kill.
Noonan had 11 kills and five blocks, Sophie Laravoy compiled 21 service points to go along with nine kills and nine digs, and setter Jocelin Linares had 17 assists.
The Bears entered the middle of the week flying high but were scheduled to have a tough test against always dominant and perennial FCIAC state champion (or at least title contender) Darien on Wednesday.
"As long as we can keep together we can hang in," Laravoy said.
Regardless of the Darien match outcome, the start to the campaign has been a thrilling one for the Bears.
"It's an amazing start," said Laravoy, adding that not only has Norwalk already won almost as many games as a year ago, but the Bears have also beaten two opponents they didn't knock off in 2009. "We're definitely a lot better team."