PREVIEW: Bristol Central girls’ volleyball plays for state title against Joel Barlow

The Bristol Central girls’ volleyball team will play in its first state championship match Saturday at 1 p.m. at East Haven High School.

The seventh-seeded Rams (19-7) face top-seeded and undefeated Joel Barlow (23-0). The Falcons play in the South-West Conference.

Here’s a look at the matchup:

What: Class L state championship match
#7 Bristol Central vs. #1 Joel Barlow
Where: East Haven High School
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Records: Bristol Central 19-7; Joel Barlow 23-0
Previous tournament meetings: The Rams and Falcons met once before in a 2012 Class L quarterfinal round match in Redding. Top-seeded Joel Barlow won that meeting against eighth-seeded Bristol Central, 3-0 (25-15, 25-6, 25-17).
All-time championship record: Bristol Central 0-0 (first appearance); Joel Barlow 1-6 (2018 Class L champions)
Road to the championship: Bristol Central – No. 26 Ledyard, 3-0 (25-13, 25-15, 25-11); No. 23 E.O. Smith-Storrs, 3-0 (25-12, 25-17, 25-9); No. 2 Suffield, 3-1 (25-10, 25-8, 10-25, 25-16); No. 3 East Lyme, 3-1 (25-15, 25-15, 22-25, 25-17). Joel Barlow – first round bye; No. 17 Ellington, 3-0 (25-12, 25-8, 25-7); No. 8 Platt-Meriden, 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-10); No. 12 Woodstock Academy, 3-0 (25-11, 25-17, 25-13).
A little bit about Joel Barlow: Located in Redding, the regional high school serves students from Easton and Redding. The high school, however, is the only school in the Region 9 district. For K-8, students go to school in Easton and Redding. The website lists it as “Easton-Redding-Region 9 School Districts”, or “ER9”. There are separate boards of education for Easton, Redding and Region 9.
About Joel Barlow’s championship: The Falcons lost their first six state final appearances – four in Class M and two in Class S – before claiming a title in 2018. Barlow was the No. 2 seed in Class L and defeated No. 1 Woodstock Academy, 3-2, at East Haven. The Falcons lost the first two sets before coming back to win. The set scores were 21-25, 20-25, 25-13, 25-19, 16-14.
Team leaders: Bristol Central – KILLS: Brooke Valentino, 276; ACES: Maddie Lodovico, 71; TOTAL BLOCKS: Olivia Clingan, 72; DIGS: Sam Sklenka, 448; ASSISTS: Alex Rivera, 746; SERVE RECEIVES: Sklenka, 510. Joel Barlow – KILLS: Libby Grob, 235; ACES: Sarah Mauro, 77; TOTAL BLOCKS: Mackenzie Sickenger, 56; DIGS: Emmy Asplund, 242; ASSISTS: Asplund, 719; SERVE RECEIVES: Mauro, 343.
About the matchup: Bristol Central is sure to have some nerves entering Saturday’s state championship match. This is the first time the Rams have been on the big stage, so being nervous is only natural. Central will need to overcome any nerves quickly against a Joel Barlow team that hasn’t lost a set since the third one in its 3-1 win over Newtown in the SWC championship match.
There are similarities between the teams. Both have two players with over 200 kills on the season, and each team has a setter with more than 700 assists. Central’s Valentino has 276 kills, followed by Lodovico with 206. Barlow’s Grob has 235 kills, followed by Katherine Czerkawski with 212. Rivera has 746 assists for the Rams while Asplund has 719 for the Falcons.
One area that could benefit Central is its serving. Each team has six players with 30 or more aces, but the Rams have four players with 50 or more aces. Five of the six players with 30 or more aces serve at 87.4% accuracy or better. Lodovico leads the way with 71 aces (95.8% accuracy, 384-401), followed by Grace Higgins with 63 (88.8, 278-313), Rivera with 60 (91.2, 342-375), and Clingan with 50 (87.4, 221-253). Barlow’s Mauro has the most aces on either team with 77 and serves at 93% accuracy (357-384). Next best for the Falcons is Asplund with 54 aces (92.8, 297-320). Of note, all six of the Barlow players with 30 or more aces to their credit serve at 88.3% accuracy or better. The team that serves better – read more accurately and strategically – could sustain its momentum, and that of course is huge in a championship match.