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Northwestern Spikers Ready to Take on Torrington.

POSTED November 15, 2016
BY John Torsiello
Twitter: @theaposition

Only 10 or so miles separate Northwestern and Torrington high schools. But the leagues the two teams play in are separated by a much wider gap.

Torrington (24-1) hangs out in the rough and tumble Naugatuck Valley League, filled with large schools that have a somewhat storied history in girls volleyball.

Northwestern (21-2) plays in the Berkshire League, which, while enjoying a modicum of success at the local and state levels (see Terryville and Gilbert), is made up of smaller schools that have far fewer student-athletes to draw their teams from.

But this relative disparity among the leagues’ power rankings isn’t fazing the Highlanders, who will gleefully take on Torrington Tuesday night in the semifinals of the Class M state tournament at Canton High School, a trip to the state championship game on the line.

Northwestern, which roared through the Berkshire League regular season unbeaten, is no paper tiger. The fourth-seeded Highlanders faced strong competition outside of the BL during the regular campaign, as head coach Jon Hurlock wisely scheduled a number of large schools, including an NVL team, Holy Cross, which Northwestern beat 3-1. Regional 7 beat New Milford and New Fairfield twice each, lost to Northwest Catholic in a tight affair, 3-2 (the Highlanders also lost to NW Catholic, 3-0) and lost another close match, 3-2, to Plainville out of conference.

Northwestern won its second straight Berkshire League Tournament title by beating Terryville in the semifinals and then rebounding from a lopsided loss in the first game of the match to top Mills in the championship tilt.

So, this is indeed a battle tested squad that will take on Class M’s top seed in the semis. If you want a bit of comparison, Torrington beat Holy Cross the only time the Raiders faced the Crusaders during the regular season, 3-0. THS also won its league tournament.

“We're going into the game knowing we can play as long as we show up 100 percent and come out swinging,” said Hurlock. “A lot of my players know a lot of the Torrington players through club volleyball, so I think that makes them less intimidated going in.”

Torrington, of course, poses a severe challenge. The Raiders come into the Route 8 Battle having lost only once this season, 3-2 to Granby. Other than that loss, Torrington has dropped only four games all season and beat Weston and Tolland by 3-0 scores in the first rounds of the state tournament.

But Northwestern also has been dominant this season., dropping just six games during the Berkshire League regular season and not losing a game in state tournament wins over Platt Tech, Berkshire League rival Mills, and Killingly.

“As of right now, everyone is healthy and playing the best they have,” commented Hurlock, which is in his fifth year with the Highlander program. “Our game on Friday against Killingly (a 3-0 win) was our best performance individually and as a team yet. Every player in our program is playing better than ever. During our regular season we played our best matches when we were behind or playing a stronger team. I think that's a big part of our success so far this state tournament.”

Northwestern, which posted a 12-7 record in 2015, is led by senior Molly Clarke, a talented middle hitter, who came back to form after suffering a mid-season knee injury last year that put her out of action. Senior Kate Matava, juniors Molly Porch, an outside hitter, and Morgan Twombly, the team’s libero, are also key players. Sophomore Julia Ujvari had a strong BL Tournament coming off the bench.

Hurlock said his team’s goal against Torrington will be “to serve strong and side out quick.” He added, “That's been our emphasis this whole season, and it has been working well. Torrington is a strong program with a strong team, and I think Tuesday will be a tough battle and a close match."

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