WESTPORT -- Sometimes you have to taste defeat before experiencing the thrill of victory. The Greens Farms Academy volleyball team did just that in knocking off Greenwich Academy in the FAA semifinals on Tuesday.
The Dragons dropped an epic first game, 33-31, but never relented, taking three straight games before beating the Gators 3-1 (31-33, 25-11, 25-12, 25-11).
Top-seeded GFA will host No. 2 Convent of Sacred Heart in the FAA final Thursday at 5 p.m.
Although GFA dropped the first game, the team's rally to push the game into extra points helped settle the Dragon's defense.
"We got ourselves in a hole early and we re-gathered and the only thing we didn't do is get our offense on track," GFA head coach Paul Groves said.
Groves credited regaining defensive continuity for relaxing the Dragons and igniting the offense for the next three games. Greens Farms, led by junior Katherine Norbom, overwhelmed the Gators the rest of the match.
"Once we relaxed our offense took off," Groves said. "I really credit the defense for relaxing the offense."
Conversely, after a strong first game Greenwich Academy went into a tailspin. The consistency the Gators showed all season evaporated, as unforced and serving errors continually left GA in a hole.
"All of a sudden we couldn't get any serves over. There were a lot of unforced errors -- that quieted my girls," GA head coach Christy Girard said of her usually exuberant team. "They weren't my loud happy girls. Emotionally they weren't together."
As the Gators struggled to regain their form the Dragons were getting contributions from unknown commodities. Senior Christina Phan starred from the service stripe after not being used in that role all season, according to Groves. Phan (12 points) converted 11 consecutive points in the fourth game, pushing the Dragons' lead to 19-8 and all but sealing GFA's trip to the finals.
"It was great to see her step up in that situation," Groves said.
Norbom, who contributed from a secondary role all season, exploded for what Groves called "the best game of her career."
The junior led the Dragons with 15 kills, two of which ended long volleys in the fourth game that may have swung momentum had the ball fallen the other direction.
Norbom also chipped in eight digs and four aces.
Dragons senior tri-captain Avery Kernan, a six-footer, spiked 12 kills. Setter and senior tri-captain Emily Blum had 20 assists and nine kills and continually burnt the Gators with heads-up drop shots that stole key points.
"The key people got it together and everyone relaxed behind them," Groves said.
Greens Farms rallied in the first game from a six-point deficit to take a 24-22 lead on consecutive aces by Norbom.
However, the Gators, riding the momentum of their five-set quarterfinal win over defending champion King on Monday, battled back to extend the game to a win-by-two scenario.
With the game extended by 14 points, Gators middle hitter Kelly McFall (two kills) ended the action by stuffing consecutive serve-returns back over the net for points.
Greenwich Academy, which was without middle hitter Nili Vazquez, who aggravated an ankle injury against King, could not match GFA's size at the net. Clara Mesa, a senior, led the Gators with eight kills and three aces. Senior co-captain Lucie Coleman dished out 20 assists.
Greenwich Academy hosts Canterbury Saturdau in its regular season finale.