East Haven - Ledyard had a two-game lead in Saturday's Class M state volleyball final, and coach Shirley Karkow couldn't have been more nervous.
"I've been in, and experienced, when you win the first two (games), and you take the foot off the gas," Karkow said. "Sometimes teams tend to take their foot off the gas and think it's over."
The Colonels kept going full throttle against top-seeded Woodland of Beacon Falls and made history in the process.
Senior and game MVP Kylie Fustini had a match-high 13 kills with two blocks as Ledyard thumped the Hawks 25-17, 25-23, 25-20, at East Haven High School.
Ledyard High - volleyball school.
"We wanted to finish it, especially fighting for a state title," Fustini said. "We didn't want to let them back in. We wanted to win it quickly and have that championship."
The Colonels were in the doldrums when Karkow and Fustini arrived four years ago. They finished 2-16 two years ago.
Ledyard now joins East Lyme and Norwich Free Academy as the Eastern Connecticut Conference's only state volleyball champions. And the Colonels did it in their first finals appearance.
"It's hard to fathom this achievement," Fustini said.
Junior Brianna Riley had 18 assists for the third-seeded Colonels (18-5) and sophomore middle hitter Michelle Klinikowski added 10 kills.
Junior Arianna Fustini also played a strong game on the outside with 10 kills. She gave Woodland something else to defend other than middles Kylie Fustini and Klinikowski.
"That was definitely her best game," Kylie Fustini said. "I'm so proud of her. She's my little sister."
It was also the first championship appearance for the Hawks (20-4).
The Colonels played one of their better sets in the first game when it got out-of-sync in Game 2. Woodland led the second game by as much as 13-5.
"We wanted them to get in position before the ball," Karkow said. "Especially on free balls. We had some momentum, but for other reason, it seemed like our free balls weren't really going (to the setters), and then we couldn't put it away.
"I just sort of reminded them that you have to do all these things before the ball (comes to you) and away from the ball."
Fustini said, "Whenever we get down, we try to pull each other up. Try to refocus and think about the play. Five seconds, move on."
Ledyard gradually came back. It trailed by three points when Kylie Fustini tipped a ball over Woodland's double block for a point and serve.
On Riley's first serve, the Hawks overpassed the ball to the net, allowing Fustini to slam it down. Woodland followed with an error to tie the match.
Arianna Fustini added two kills and Riley an ace to push their team ahead, 23-19.
"We made more mistakes than a championship-caliber team should make," Hawks coach Jim Amato said. "We gave the momentum away, and we let them back in the game."
Ledyard had a four-point lead in the final when it pulled away. Klinikowski had back-to-back kills, and Fustini added another as the Colonels took a 22-15 lead.
A few rotations later, Fustini had her 10th kill to finish the match.
"Once we came back (in Game 2), we had to keep going," senior Jessica Monday said. "We always say, 'We have to push on the gas.' We're never going to let it go.
"We have to keep pushing-and-pushing until we finally win."