Ledyard advances to ECC volleyball final

Ledyard's Michelle Klinikowski crashed to the floor trying to make a dig during the Colonels' 3-1 win over East Lyme in the ECC semifinals Tuesday night. The Colonels will play defending champion Woodstock Academy in Thursday's final at NFA.

Norwich - A night earlier, Ledyard coach Rich Duwelius had a great idea on paper. He switched the Colonels' rotation so that all-star Michelle Klinikowski, an outside hitter, occupied the middle blocker position.

The second-seeded Colonels promptly lost the first game of the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament quarterfinals to Griswold.

"When we went back to the old rotation, it was magical," Ledyard senior Ari Fustini said with a smile. "It made us appreciate it a lot more."

"It was a bad idea for me to try something like that this late in the year," Duwelius said.

Ledyard went on to roll past Griswold after that, winning in four games, bringing the Colonels into Tuesday night's ECC semifinals against No. 3 East Lyme. Duwelius' team stayed appreciative, too, topping the Vikings 3-0 (25-22, 25-15, 25-16) in what the first-year coach called "our best match of the year."

Klinikowski had 14 kills and middle hitters Hannah Hutchins (9 kills) and Madison Canestrari (7 kills) gave Ledyard plenty of firepower, aided by setter Jenny Nohara with 32 assists. The Colonels (21-1) will meet No. 5 Woodstock Academy in the championship match at 6 p.m. Thursday at Norwich Free Academy.

Woodstock, the defending champion, carried by a 22-kill, 8-ace performance by star Sarah Swenson, defeated Fitch in four hard-fought games, 25-15, 11-25, 25-21, 25-18. Fitch (12-10), the eighth seed, was coming off a five-game victory in the quarterfinals Monday night over top-seeded Lyman Memorial.

The Falcons also had a five-game win Friday night at Bristol Central, arriving home close to midnight, then topped Bacon Academy in three games in the first round of the ECC tournament Saturday beginning at 1:30 p.m.

"Our pride and our adrenalin kept us going," Fitch coach Steve Banks said. "I'm proud as heck. We just couldn't sustain it."

Taylor Kelsey finished with 13 kills for the Falcons, Mackenzie Aldridge seven kills, Michelina Pinto 15 digs and machine-like sophomore setter Mae Sefransky 25 assists.

Fitch won the second game with its student section in full voice, undertaking a chant of "Poi-son Iv-ey" for server Meghan Ivey, who secured the final two points to even the match at one-game apiece.

In the third game, the teams were tied 18-18 when Swenson began serving for Woodstock and got the lead to 22-19 before she was done. She then put away a kill on the next point for a 23-19 advantage and held on from there. Two straight kills by Caroline Taber pulled Fitch within 13-10 in the fourth game before Swenson's serve increased the margin to 17-11.

"I knew we beat them before this season (the teams split during the regular season), so we knew we had the strength and ability," Kelsey said of Fitch. "We had a lot of energy. Every one of us was pumping each other up. We just kept fighting.

"Our defense was amazing last night (against Lyman) and it was again tonight. There's no offense without our defense."

Ledyard, meanwhile, is looking to sustain its success in the postseason, dating back to last year's Class M state championship.

East Lyme led 7-2 in the opening game on the strength of an ace by Hannah Burke to make it 6-2, followed by a kill by Morgan Lloyd. But following a Ledyard timeout, the Colonels appeared to loosen up and began hitting at an alarming rate, tying the game at 8-8 on two straight points by Canestrari.

Ledyard took the lead at 11-10 on a kill by Klinikowski and remained in command throughout the completion of the match.

"When you lose the momentum in volleyball, it's tough to stop it," said East Lyme coach Jack Biggs, whose team is 14-7.

"We had it in bits and pieces all three games. The kids knew it was either win and move on or lose and go home, but we didn't have a game to match Ledyard."

Catherine Buckley had 10 kills for East Lyme, Lloyd nine kills and Burke 10 digs.

"We got contributions in all phases today," Ledyard's Duwelius said, "our blocking, our setting, our hitting, our defense. We have a lot of options. We really spread the ball around."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Fitch's Taylor Kelsey (6) tries to tip the ball past a pair of Woodstock Academy defenders during Tuesday night's ECC semifinal game at NFA. Woodstock, the defending champion, beat the Falcons in four games and will play Ledyard for the tournament title on Thursday. Ledyard swept East Lyme.
Fitch's Taylor Kelsey (6) tries to tip the ball past a pair of Woodstock Academy defenders during Tuesday night's ECC semifinal game at NFA. Woodstock, the defending champion, beat the Falcons in four games and will play Ledyard for the tournament title on Thursday. Ledyard swept East Lyme.
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