By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Central volleyball squad took on a significant non-conference challenge against New Milford, battling New Milford from the Charles C. Marsh gymnasium in Bristol on Columbus Day, and the home squad certainly had its collective hands full from the first serve.
But the Rams showed some real intestinal fortitude in defeating the Green Wave, three sets to none, in a contest that easily could have gone south for Central (9-4 overall).
Set scores were 26-24, 25-23 and 25-21 and once the home team cleaned things up, those points quickly added up on the Rams side of the scoreboard.
“Getting over the hump of the mistakes and playing to our level (helped us win),” said Central coach Jen Broderick. “In the last game, I said that I wanted us to focus on being aggressive in every single opportunity we had and we went up by  points.”
The Rams three captains led the charge as Cydney Martin, Alexa Caron, and Allie Martel all made contributions over the winning endeavor.
Caron wrapped up six kills as did Martin to pace Central.
Martel was particularly clever at the service line as she rained down five aces while smacking eight kills and dropping in 16 of 17 serves.
The event was a competitive affair as seven lead changes and 15 ties highlighted the back and forth play of the match.
Tony Nocera, a former Bristol Central assistant coach in girls hoop and third year mentor of the New Milford squad, had his outfit in midseason form and pushed the Rams to the brink during each set.
“I thought in match play, once the ball was in, we were dead even with them,” said Nocera. “They obviously can hit. Martel crushes the ball but I thought we defended her well. We tipped almost every one she hit. She only got two or three clean looks. I mean, she’s a [heck] of a player.”
New Milford (7-6) had some size and managed to deflect a number of Central’s kills throughout game play.
Abbi Debes, Angela Haglund, and Abbie Gillin provided some real size in the front for the Green Wave and helped the squad hang around over the three ultra-competitive set affair.
But when New Milford passed free balls over the net and Central was able to get into their offensive sets, setter Kallie Clark (20 assists) was on point from the onset.
She also was a standout on defense with eight digs, playing well on both the front and back lines.
“I gave her the player of the game after the game,” said Broderick of Clark. “We had a total of 24 kills so that says something about where she was putting the ball today and I thought she did a really nice job. Not every ball was settable and even though it wasn’t settable, she put it in a place where the hitters could make a play.”
“I thought she did a really nice job today.”
Sam Laviero (17-for-17 serving) was outstanding in Central’s serving rotation, as was Autumn Blais (14-for-14) and Hailee Velazquez (7-for-7).
But the Green Wave splashed Central early with several aces and when Central could not return an offering by Hannah Barbiero, the visitors led 14-8 and were in control of set one.
The Rams made a comeback, as Green Wave serving mistakes and a couple of aces from Laviero trimmed the deficit but when a Clark serve fell short, New Milford led 24-20 and were a point away from taking the set.
However, that point never materialized as Central ended game one with a blazing 6-0 run.
The Green Wave made four consecutive errors, Martel slipped in a kill and off one final mistake, the Rams’ comeback was complete in a 26-24 set one win.
New Milford made three consecutive errors in serving to open the second set as both teams could not grab an early edge.
“We killed ourselves at the line,” said Nocera. “I think we had four serving errors in the first set and six in the second set and we lost [each] set by two points each. That’s where the ball game is right there. I think if we win one of those two sets, I think the third [set] is a little different mentally I think.”
“We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
But this game came down to the wire, with the squad’s combining for nine ties, and neither team could generate any separation as the contest was knotted up at 19-19 late.
The Green Wave shot a kill long, and when Blais dropped in a slick ace, the Rams never trailed in the set again.
New Milford’s Ally Helmus slipped in an late ace that made it a 24-23 game but on the final play of the set, Martin simply pushed the ball over the net and the visitors were unable to handle it, falling by two points and trailed 2-0 in match play.
“I feel like he’s super-competitive and that comes off in his players,” said Broderick of Nocera. “And so are my players and I think that says something about what you teach and instill. You can’t necessarily play for them but you can teach them how to respond and how to play no matter what the score. They [New Milford] were down by 11 points [in set three] and they came back within three, which I thought said a lot about who they are.”
And in set three, Central trailed early but off a huge 9-0 run, fueled by crafty serving from Laviero, the Rams nabbed a 10-2 edge and never gave back the lead.
Central grabbed two eleven point cushions over the final set and when a Martel serve proved to tough to return, the Rams snared a 23-12 lead and Broderick subbed freely with Brittany Stancavage, Cindy Tema, and Sam Almodovar-Paradis all earning some floor time.
However, New Milford refused to go quietly and fueled by serving from Erin Farley, the squad went on an 8-0 jaunt— and quickly, it was a 23-20 contest.
“I make a sub or I change something a little bit and then it’s like a domino effect. One mistake turns into seven,” said Broderick. “Cleaning it up was the last thing we did to score those last points, just making sure we were making the plays, or playing our positions or being aggressive, smart…all those good things.”
To end the match, Martel flipped down one final kill as Central has to sweat it out, beating New Milford 25-21 and sweeping the match 3-0 in what was one heck of a battle.
“Our effort was fantastic,” said Nocera. “We defended them very well. Our interior defense, that’s what we’ve been trying to get to and we finally got there. It was good. We can build on this.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE