Going into Tuesday's quarterfinal Class LL state volleyball tournament, the Nighthawks had advanced past their results last year when they reeled from a second round loss to the Cheshire Rams.
Having captured their second consecutive South-West Conference championships as well as experienced tough losses, the Nighthawks said they are a more confident and seasoned team who have been able to overcome challenges along the way.
"We've really learned a lot," Abbey Doski said. "We get into a tight situation and we stay confident."
The Nighthawks demonstrated their coolness under pressure Tuesday night as they shut out Staples, 25-22, 27-25, 25-21.
In each game, Newtown was down points to the Wreckers before coolly climbing back to tie the score and eventually win. In the first game, Newtown was down 16-20 at one point before a combination of Westport errors and Newtown spikes, tips and line-hitting serves allowed the Nighthawks to score nine points and limit Staples to just two to win the game.
The second game would represent the best chance for Staples to get the upper hand as they jumped out to an early lead. But again, Newtown climbed back from the deficit, though the lead would change hands three times and be tied 10 times before a Newtown spike and long ball from Westport gave Newtown the two point differential needed to win.
"The girls did great," Newtown Coach Tom Czaplinski said. "They were steady, they were composed."
Emma Herring lead the way offensively with 11 kills, Alyssa Finkenstadt with nine, Riley Wurtz with seven and Sam Steimle and Cassie Ekstrom each with three. Defensively, Doski notched 21 digs; Wurtz, seven; Ekstrom, three; and Courtney Escoda and Jessica Lynch, each two.
Lynch also had 28 assists while Doski had two and Finkenstadt had one.
With a near perfect record this season at 19-1, Newtown has lost to only one team, East Lyme, the defending Class L state champion, though in an earlier match-up during the year the Nighthawks got the upper hand.
"East Lyme was a huge test for us," Czaplinski said.
Because Newtown is in a different state division, the Nighthawks won't have to meet East Lyme again this season.
But next up is Cheshire – the team that knocked the Nighthawks out of the state playoffs last year – and this year promises to be a formidable opponent who has been undefeated in 20 games.
"We're really determined and we really want to win states," Finkenstadt said.
Editor's note: The semifinal match has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Thursday in Milford.