Ledyard - The only two things that kept Ledyard from being terrifying last season was its passing and defensive lapses. And it still won the program's first state volleyball title.
Seven games into the 2013 season, the Colonels have personally delivered bad news to their Eastern Connecticut Conference opponents - they can pass and defend quite well, thank you.
The defending CIAC Class M champions downed East Lyme on Wednesday 25-18, 23-25, 25-18, 25-18 in an ECC Large Division match.
Good luck, ECC.
"We have more of a maturity now," Colonels coach Rich Duwelius said. "I sense that they believe in themselves more, have more confidence, and are hungry for more success."
Jenny Nohara had 28 assists and four kills for Ledyard (7-0, 2-0) and 6-foot-2 middle hitter Michelle Klinikowski had 16 kills.
Madison Canestrari, a 6-3 middle hitter, added 13 kills.
East Lyme coach Jack Biggs knows a good team when he sees one. His team has played in the last three Class L finals and won twice, the conference's only multiple state champion.
"They have a lot of tremendous players from last year, almost all of them," Biggs said. "The thing I was most impressed about was their defense tonight; the extra effort that they put in to keep the ball off the floor. And that was everybody on that floor for almost the entire match."
Ledyard's game got a boost when junior Mariah Abstetar transferred into the program via Oregon.
"She's fantastic," Klinikowski said. "She's so good, and I'm so happy she's on our team. Everybody has really worked hard all offseason to get better and improve."
Duwelius said, "She definitely adds a whole other dimension to our team that was lacking. We're fortunate. She's been playing since she was in fifth grade, so she's the only player we have that's actually started playing early because they don't have much in the way of volleyball programs for kids in Connecticut."
The Vikings are undergoing some rare growing pains as they only returned one starter from last season's Class L runnerup.
Hannah Burke (11 digs) and Jenna Schumacher both served well on Wednesday for East Lyme.
"We competed today, which I was happy about, especially Game 2," Biggs said. "We kept the pressure on Ledyard.
"We kind of lost our serve-receive going into Games 3 and 4, and I think that's going to be our priority to fix that the best that we can. I know if we just start passing and receiving serve better that we can run some offense."
East Lyme, as well as fellow powers Fitch and Norwich Free Academy, will also have to deal with Ledyard more this season because it was moved up from the Medium Division.
"I love it," Ledyard's Arianna Fustini said. "It's more to think about during the day sitting at school. 'Oh, we have a big game later today.' At the end of the day, I'd rather be playing a bunch of hard teams."