Senior captains Sadie Budzik (left) and Kaitlin Lewkowicz (right) led Cromwell volleyball in 2019
After losing a five-set heartbreaker to Immaculate in the second round of the Class S tournament last Wednesday at Cromwell High School, head coach Traci Capodice reflected fondly on the team’s mental makeup following the historic season.
“We played well all season and we played good tonight, but they did a little more than us. It was two evenly-matched teams and they played a better fifth set.”
It marked the end of a memorable season for the Panthers, who won a program-record 16 regular season games, before sweeping Classical in the first round of the tournament.
Capodice had a mixture of senior leadership and vibrant youth on her roster, which boosted the team in 2019 and leaves plenty of pieces coming back next fall.
Seniors Sadie Budzik, Kaitlin Lewkowicz, Jamie Trinh, and Ava Zawadzki played their final game on their home floor during the tournament loss to the Bridgeport-based Mustangs.
It’s a senior class that Capodice will not soon forget, “They’re a special group, these four. They work so well together, and they did great things. They have a bright future ahead of them.”
Budzik and Lewkowicz made an immense impact on the program during their time at CHS. This season the two captains dominated from the first serve until the final point Wednesday night.
Budzik led the team in kills (337) and aces (148) this fall. Lewkowicz was a versatile setter, racking up a team-high 423 assists and adding 68 aces.
“They’ve got great chemistry together,” Capodice said of her setter-hitter combo, “They work well together. If one is having an off day, the other adjusts, and when they’re both on they do big things.”
Capodice added that Lewkowicz played libero as a freshman and sophomore but moved to setter during her junior season to fill a need, “She had to pick up that role pretty quickly and she did a tremendous job with it. It was natural for her and when she’s setting and Sadie is on, it was perfect. Sadie can adjust to Kaitlin’s sets and Kaitlin could adjust to her, they work very well together. They were our glue.”
As they had done all season, the productive pair made several key plays against Immaculate.
After dropping the second and third sets, Budzik shined in the fourth set with five kills and six aces. She finished with a team-high 14 kills, 17 digs, and nine aces.
Lewkowicz ended the set with an overhand punch, which dotted the corner and forced the decisive fifth set.
Early in the match, the next generation of Cromwell spikers shined. Sophomore Khaya Skene single-handedly saved the opening set, diving to save an errant ball with the team trailing 25-24. Skene went headfirst into the center of the court, reaching out with her right hand before making contact with the ball prior to it hitting the ground. The shot was perfectly placed towards the back corner of Immaculate’s side, tying the set at 25. The Panthers scored three of the next four points to win 28-26.
“She’s done a great job for us and she showed it today,” Capodice said of Skene, who finished with 10 kills, “She plays well for us all the time but today she was diving for balls, she was going for every point. She’s got a very bright future ahead of her, she’s a strong player.”
Skene will be one of four returning starters in 2020, along with Driona Statovci, Brynn Kovacs, and Alex Umelo.
Statovci was steady as the team’s libero, leading the team with 235 digs.
Kovac, a freshman, showcased her accuracy and touch as a lefty. She starred in the tournament win over Classical, finishing with four kills and four aces.
Umelo made great stride this season, more than doubling her kills and blocks from a season ago.
“It’s a big difference from last year,” Capodice said of the development of Umelo, who finished with a team-high 90 blocks in 2019, “She worked so hard over the summer. She worked on a lot of different things and it showed this year. We’ve never had anyone block as well as she has.”
Umelo had a handful of big plays in the elimination match, finishing with nine kills, nine digs, and a pair of blocks.
Capodice, who has been coaching at CHS since 2012, shared a tearful goodbye with the team following the loss.
After the Panthers dropped the fifth set 15-5, which ended the program’s most successful season, Capodice reminded her girls of what they had accomplished.
“I told them not to hold their heads down. We did great and they worked really well together. It’s a great group of kids and I love them all. We’ll be back next year, ready to go.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin