By Paul Lecker
STRATFORD – Stratford started slow in the first set of its WIAA Division 3 girls volleyball match against Colby, before a spectacular serving run by Allyson Zuleger tipped the scales in the Tigers' favor.
Down six points, Zuleger served 12-straight points to put Stratford in control and the fifth-seeded Tigers went on to sweep No. 12 seed Colby 3-0 on Tuesday at Stratford High School.
The Tigers won 25-19, 25-14, 26-24, move on to a Division 3 regional semifinal at No. 4 seed Westfield at Thursday at 7 p.m.
Stratford was sluggish to start, unable to get an offensive rhythm going as Colby raced out to a 18-11 lead after kills by Lydia Decker and Kennedy Bilz.
Following a sideout on a long serve, Zuleger stepped to the service line and caught fire, as did the Tigers’ offense.
Zuleger had four aces, Hailey Chapel had a pair of kills, and Megan Wiese, Kalyn Schueller and Tessa Berg added kills as Stratford forged ahead 24-18, and eventually won 25-19.
Zuleger wasn’t done. Colby held close for half of the second set and trailed 12-11 after an ace by Brett Schmitt. After a sideout, Zuleger served nine points in a row, including two aces, and Berg had three kills as Stratford built a 22-11 lead and ended up winning 25-14.
“We knew coming into this game that we had to focus on serve and pass,” Stratford coach Brooke Kafka said. “We struggled with that right away, so it was great to see her (Zuleger) come in and get those runs, and some other girls followed with some strong runs and serves. Ultimately, if we can’t serve and pass, it doesn’t matter what else we can do.”
Colby was on the comeback trail in the third set. After falling behind 16-7, the Hornets put forth one last effort to continue their season.
Kills by Hayden Willner, Decker and Sophia Fontoira, and another ace by Schmitt, gave Colby a 19-17 lead.
Stratford recovered and regained a 22-19 lead. Colby tied the match at 24-24 before the Tigers were able to finish off the victory and move on to the next round.
“I think we’re fortunate to be where we are right now,” Kakfa said. “Last year, being the kind of season it was, and we lost nine seniors, coming into this year and putting in a whole new team it took us a little bit to find our groove. I think we have some good options now that we can utilize. With our up-and-down season, to be a No. 5 seed in the playoffs is a great spot to be. I’m looking forward to Thursday and the days to follow.”
Zuleger finished with nine aces, four digs and 18 assists, Chapel and Berg both had nine kills, and Chapel added six assists for Stratford.
Jorja Weiland had four service aces and Willner had five kills for Colby.