ROME – The New Hartford Spartans girls volleyball team has high hopes for this season. … And why shouldn’t they?
Fresh off Thursday’s win over rival and defending section champion Whitesboro, the Spartans showed no let down for the majority of Monday’s 3-0 Tri Valley League Colonial victory over Rome Free Academy.
Senior hitters Chloe Elsenbeck and Madison Desmarais led the way for the Spartans, who improved to 4-0. Elsenbeck had six kills, five digs and three aces. Desmarais, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, finished with seven kills and a block as the Spartans cruised through the first two sets 25-11 and 25-7 before the Black Knights made them work for the sweep in a tight 25-23 final set.
“I think that we started strong and we kept up our passing which has been getting a lot better,” Elsenbeck said. “In the third set we got kind of sloppy.”
Casey Hunziker had nine assists and a block, ace and kill, while Maria Keeney tallied two aces, three kills and two blocks for the Black Knights (2-2).
After dropping the first two points of the match, the Spartans, behind five service points from setter Marie Winn scored six straight and 11 of the next 13 points to take control of the opening set. The Black Knights managed to pull as close as 13-9, but key serving by Kianna Kennedy and hitting by Elsenbeck, Belle Vitagliano and Ku Ku helped the Spartans go on a 9-0 run en route to taking a 1-0 lead.
To start the second set, the Spartans picked right where they left off by winning the first six points on nice hitting from Desmarais and serving by Winn. After that rough start, RFA could never recover and New Hartford cruised to an easy 25-7 win to move one set from the victory.
“In the first two sets we didn’t serve well and we didn’t receive serve well, and it’s very difficult to win when you don’t do those things,” RFA head coach Nick Natishak said.
“(New Hartford) attacked really well. They have a few girls that can really put the ball on the floor and if you’re playing against a team like that you have to be really consistent on your serve and serve receive, and that was the big difference in the first two sets. Then we cleaned that up a little bit in the third and it was close.”
New Hartford head coach Bill Gardinier wasn’t worried at all about a letdown following the big win over Whitesboro.
“We played at the South Lewis tournament Saturday and won the bracket over there against some good teams, so I knew we were ready,” said Gardinier. “I think in the third game, after seeing the first two scores, we let down a bit.
“I thought our serve receive was good in the first two sets. We focused on that our last four practices because (RFA) has some good servers and when they are on they are on. And I think our setting has gotten a lot better so we can kill the ball, especially with Madison and Chloe.”
With their backs against the wall, the Black Knights came out strong in the third, with a little help from some sloppy play by the Spartans. Strong serving by Hunziker pushed RFA to a 6-0 lead.
“I think we came together a lot more in the third set,” Hunziker said. “We focused and relied on each other and encouraged each other. We’re always working on lifting each other up and we want to show we can hang with the good teams and that we can be a force to be reckoned with coming up.”
The Spartans answered with a quick 5-0 run to close the gap to 6-5 before some great serving by Maria Keeney (two aces) gave the home team a 9-5 edge.
Once again, New Hartford wouldn’t let the margin become too wide and they responded with a 4-0 run to knot the score capped by a Desmarais kill that ended a long rally. The Black Knights would take their last lead of the match on kills by Madison Wolfe and Megan Magnanti that made it 12-10 before New Hartford would go on a 6-0 run to grab the lead for good.
Closing out the match wasn’t easy for New Hartford as the Black Knights battled until the very end. The Spartans seemed in complete control after building a 21-14 advantage and also led 23-17, but RFA rattled off four straight points on a kill by Hunziker and three errors by the Spartans to close within 23-21.
New Hartford inched within a point of the win on an RFA error, but a kill by Calla Reilley and an error made it 24-23 before a service error ended the match.
“I think our hitting was good,” Desmarais said. “Our passing was also pretty good today … sometimes we struggle with that and we also can work on our serve receive and covering because it was a little off in the third set.”
Magnanti had two aces, two kills and two blocks and Wolfe chipped in with two aces and two kills for the Black Knights, who travel to take on Oneida Thursday.
The Black Knights proved they can compete with top teams when they’re playing up to their potential and their head coach sees the season as a process.
“It’s a long season and it’s doesn’t really matter too much how you’re playing early in the season,” Natishak said. “It’s more about getting through the season and getting better each game.”
Winn finished with 23 assists and five digs for the Spartans who also received critical contributions from Ku (five kills, two digs and two aces); Kennedy (four digs); Vitagliano (six kills); and Shaye Gardinier (10 digs).
The depth, talent and leadership have New Hartford’s seniors focused on taking home the big prize this season.
“I want to win sectionals,” Elsenbeck said.
Desmarais wasn’t as pointed with her goals, but has similar expectations.
“I didn’t get to play last year because I tore my ACL,” Desmarais said. “It’s been a good start to win like this and hopefully we’ll keep it up and have a good season.”
New Hartford 3, RFA 0
Game Scores: 25-11, 25-7, 25-23.
New Hartford (4-0, 4-0): Marie Winn 23 assists, five digs; Chloe Elsenbeck 3 aces, 6 kills, 5 digs; Madison Desmarais 7 kills, 1 ace, 1 block; Shaye Gardinier 1 aces, 10 digs; Ku Ku 2 aces, 2 digs, 5 kills; Kianna Kennedy 4 digs, 1 ace, 1 kill; Belle Vitagliano 6 kills, 1 ace, Kira Corasanti 1 dig; Chloe Kem 1 assist, 1 dig.
RFA (2-2, 2-2): Casey Hunziker 9 assists, 1 block, 1 ace, 1 kill; Maria Keeney 2 aces, 3 kills, 2 blocks; Megan Magnanti 2 aces, 2 kills, 2 blocks; Madison Wolfe 2 aces, 2 kills; Gianna Guiliano 3 digs; Avery Pabis 2 digs; Kate Mastracco 2 kills; Calla Reilley 1 kills, 1 block.