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If the first two matchups between the Newtown and Joel Barlow of Redding high school boys’ volleyball teams are an indication of what is to come, we are in for a hard-fought battle in the South-West Conference championship. And if the outcome remains the same, then Newtown’s program will earn its first title.
The Nighthawks remained unbeaten with a 3-2 (25-22, 20-25, 19-25, 25-23, 15-11) win over visiting Joel Barlow of Redding on May 10. It marked Newtown’s second five-game win over the Falcons this season, in a preview of the SWC’s pinnacle match, which the Nighthawks will host on Friday, May 25, beginning at 6 pm. The top two SWC teams meet in a single-game playoff to determine the champion each spring; this is the fourth-year Newtown program’s first SWC title game appearance.
The Hawks fell behind 10-1 in game one before scoring 24 of the next 36 points to seize the early match advantage.
After the Falcons pushed Newtown into a must-win situation with victories in games two and three, the Nighthawks battled to a hard-fought triumph in game four. Barlow went ahead two points, but the Nighthawks took a 5-4 lead and did not trail the rest of the way in the fourth game, although it was close throughout. Ardi Kodzodziku’s kill sent the match to a decisive fifth game.
In game five, there were only a pair of ties, at 3-3 and 4-4, but it was a nail-biter throughout. After overcoming 2-0 and 3-1 Barlow leads, for a 4-3 advantage, the Nighthawks never trailed but led by no more than two points until seizing a 13-10 lead on a block by Morten Sande and Eric Moore. After the teams traded points, Kodzodziku made a diving save to keep a ball in play, which led to a match-ending block by Silas Decker and Jacob Duffy.
Kodzodziku, who ended the fourth game with a kill, compiled 29 kills, 16 digs, two blocks, 11 service points, and one ace. Moore racked up 40 assists, 14 digs, nine kills, six blocks, nine service points, and an ace.
Robbie Morrill registered 14 kills, four digs, a block, seven service points, one ace. Decker had 17 kills, seven service points, four blocks, and an ace. Sande had seven kills, three blocks, and one ace.
Matt Principi had a dozen digs. Duffy had four kills and three digs, and Kyle Nicholson and Liam Jones added three and two digs respectively.
Home-court advantage in the championship was on the line in the May 10 meeting.
“They wanted it just as badly as we wanted it. It’s a huge sigh or relief for me to know these guys can handle the pressure,” Newtown Coach Sandy Doski said.
Of course, while the Hawks showed some mettle in a key victory, the Falcons are the more proven program, having won the last two SWC titles and appeared in each of the last three finals.
“I’m nervous because obviously this is our first time in it. The boys really want it,” Doski said. “They’re used to this type of pressure, where we’re not yet.”
Doski said, heading into the final three matches of the regular campaign, that her team has some things to work on.
“We’ve got a lot to work on with our blocking and with our defense with serve-receive,” the coach said.
Newtown defeated host Shelton in a trio of close games, 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-18) the night before the May 10 match with Barlow.
“I was happy we played Shelton yesterday because that was a phenomenal match, and that got us ready for Barlow,” Doski said.
Against Shelton, Kodzodziku compiled 21 kills, two blocks, ten digs, nine service points, and three aces; Moore had 25 assists, three kills, two blocks, and eight digs; Morrill had six kills, ten digs, and once ace; and Decker came up with five kills, two blocks, five digs, and eight service points.
After hosting Xavier of Middletown on Thursday, May 17 at 6 pm, the Hawks finish up the slate against a pair of FCIAC teams with a visit to Danbury, on Friday, May 18 at 4 pm, and a home match against Stamford on Monday, May 21, at 6 pm. Newtown’s already beaten Danbury in four games, but Danbury stands to be a formidable foe, having beaten Barlow in the minimum three games.