Twin sisters Ava O'Neil (L) and Lillian O'Neil (R) helped the Eagles qualify for the state tournament with a four-set victory over Rockville.
Wethersfield volleyball played a win-or-‘stay’-home match, rising to the occasion to defeat visiting Rockville in four sets (28-26, 25-19, 14-25, 25-15) last Tuesday (Oct 26) at WHS.
It was the final regular season game for the Eagles, who finished with a record of 8-12, and the crucial victory qualified them for the Class L tournament.
“I think there was some nervousness and I think they had a little bit of confidence from beating Rockville last time,” head coach Debbie O’Brien, referring to the Eagles previous five-set win at Rockville on Sept 30. “We were up and down tonight, but we came back in set four and we had a little bit more energy. I liked how we played in that set.”
Wethersfield came out of the gates quickly, scoring the first four points behind senior Ava O’Neil, who had a kill and a pair of aces. The Eagles never trailed in the first set, leading by as many as six points, but the Rams of Rockville rallied to tie it at 24 before the Eagles ended the opening set with kills from Julia Laabs and Claire Sipes.
Laabs finished with a team-high 19 kills and is showing a poise on the court that is rare for a sophomore.
“She’s an excellent hitter. She’s one of the best hitters we have out there without a doubt,” said O’Brien. “She’s made a difference for us and I think it will make a difference for years to come. After losing six seniors, she’s going to come back with some great varsity experience.”
The Eagles trailed early in the second set before rallying and pulling away behind a pair of aces from Laabs. O’Neil polished off the set with a kill.
O’Neil, who is a middle hitter, had a terrific all-around game, finishing with six kills, five digs, and three aces. Her twin sister Lillian O’Neil is the Eagles libero, finishing with a team-high 14 digs.
After losing the third set, O’Brien’s team jumped out to a 15-7 lead before Rockville reeled off six straight points. O’Brien called a timeout to calm her team down.
“I told them to settle in and take a breath. We made a couple of adjustments to where their middle was putting the ball and made sure we were covering those spots,” added O’Brien. “We talked about our energy and communications, and being aggressive.”
The timeout worked as the Eagles scored 10 of the next 12 points to secure the victory and a spot in the postseason.
O’Brien, who took a year off coaching last year but remained close to the team, is leaning on her seniors more than ever this fall.
“The experience of the seniors has helped. They were all on varsity last year and you had four strong seniors on varsity last year, and these girls were excited to step in and be on the court together. They’ve all been playing for four years and they are good friends off the court too and that helps.”
Senior setters Tess Lewis-Holcombe and Libby Silver are captaining the team.
“Libby is one of the quietest kids that you’ll see, but she leads the kids by example and she’s made the underclassmen feel really comfortable. Tess was setter last year so she was accustomed to leading the offense and for her to step in for a second year and lead the offense helps,” added O’Brien.
Lewis-Holcombe served up a game-high 30 assists in the win over Rockville.
The team started the season winning six of their first nine before losing nine of ten prior to the Rockville match.
Next up is the state tournament. The opening round starts Monday, November 8.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin