#12 Riley Grenier gets ready to set as #20 Luke Kelleher and #15 Dylan Knapp look on during Wethersfield's three set victory over Bloomfield last Wednesday night. Photo: Jo-Ann Campbell
Boom Boom Pow by The Black Eyed Peas topped the Billboard Charts when Wethersfield boys’ volleyball last hosted a state tournament game.
All that changed last Wednesday night when the #4 Eagles welcomed, and defeated, #13 Bloomfield in three sets (27-25, 25-20, 25-19) during the opening round of the Class M tourney.
Nearly a decade had past since the program had played a state match at WHS, a drought dating back to June of 2009.
“We wanted to take advantage of that, being in front of our home fans,” said Wethersfield coach Debbie O’Brien, who guided her team to a 15-5 mark in the regular season.
Wednesday’s three-setter didn’t come easy for the Eagles, who had to withstand an early flurry from the visiting Warhawks, led by the explosive duo of Chaddane Williams and Emmanuel Goods.
Bloomfield had the home team on the ropes in the first set, leading 24-23, before the Eagles scored four of the final five points.
A kill from Kevin Rascius was followed by back-to-back winners from Conor Senk, before an overhead slam from Dylan Knapp ended the opening set.
“That’s something we’ve talked about all season. Teams get runs on us and we have to shut it down before it’s too late. For the most part we did that, although in the first game it got close,” said Rascius, a team captain.
“You could tell both teams were a little jittery. I could feel the team was jazzed a little bit and they just needed to work through it,” O’Brien said of the back-and-forth first set, “We’ve gone through those spurts that have hurt us, but then we get that one stop when we need it.”
Rascius took over early in set two, scoring four straight points, included three aces. The senior finished with a game-high eight aces.
“I noticed that one of their weaker passers was in the middle, so I was just trying to target that spot.”
Luke Kelleher increased the lead to 21-16 with consecutive blocks before Rascius ended the set with a thunderous spike that ricocheted off a Warhawk.
In the final frame, Mason Sundquist had a kill and block to provide an early cushion before Senk scored six of the final seven points for the Eagles, including the match’s final two after Bloomfield made one last run.
“Finishing teams off has been biting us all year, so when we saw them coming back we knew we had to turn it up,” said Senk, “This year we’re a higher seed and we wanted to take advantage of the home court. I feel like our whole mentality is a lot better than last year and I think these home games, getting the fans to come out, is really helpful.”
A loss would have been a wrap for seven seniors, who lived to play another day.
“We didn’t want to lose in front of our home crowd, especially it being the first home states game in a long time,” said Rascius, “The seniors are all close. We have a lot of fun at practice and we’re all friends outside of volleyball.”
The tourney triumph was the Eagles third win over Bloomfield in less than six weeks, also winning in straight sets on April 15 and needing five sets at Bloomfield on May 8.
“Blocking-wise we changed a little bit because they have those two hitter, #7 and #10, who are both super good. We did try and adjust to those two,” said O’Brien, referring to Williams and Goods, “The first time we played them we controlled the game a little more and the second time we went five. They had excelled since then, so we were ready for them, we knew they were coming. They’re scrappy, you saw them dig out some balls and makes some saves, and they were big on the blocks. We knew we needed to pass and have a lot of different options, otherwise they would just read us and block.”
“We knew they have two really dominant hitters and they’ve gotten better the two times we played them, so this time we focused on covering and blocking and really finding a way to slow down the hits. I feel like we did that today,” added Senk, “The practices we had this past week really paid off.”
As he has done all season, Senk led the team in kills. He’s one of two starting juniors, along with libero Cameron Ky, who wowed the crowd with his usual array of diving saves.
Knapp, a sophomore, came off the bench to supply a handful of winners.
“He’s played more positions than anyone else this year. We’ve had him left side, we’ve had him right side. We’ve had him playing middle and we’ve had him on the outside. He’s versatile,” O’Brien said of her blossoming underclassman, “He’s that quiet kid, but we joke that every once in a while that beast comes out. He’s been that silent, secret weapon and he’s made a huge difference.”
Knapp has also earned the trust of the seniors.
“I’ll be honest, sometimes he gets in his own head and we have to pick him up but when that happens he steps up for us and today he did that. He gets big blocks and really helps out our team. He’s going to be big the next couple of years,” added Rascius.
Coming into the season O’Brien knew her team had the right pieces and the right mentality.
“At the beginning of the season I told them ‘don’t miss this because you guys have that special connection.’ They been working towards it since last season when we lost against Mills. They couldn’t wait to get back on the court.”
The team won their first nine games to start 2019, only dropping four set over the nine-game span.
“We’ve just had one of those special seasons. The senior class leadership has been, without a doubt, the key. It’s just one of those teams that doesn’t come around a lot. They work hard, they know how to have a lot of fun, and they know how to keep that balance. They click and they play for each other. It’s just one of those teams.”
The special season continued with more home cooking last Friday, sweeping New Canaan (25-21, 26-24, 25-16) in the quarterfinals at WHS.
After waiting 3,648 days to host a playoff game, the program only had to wait one day to host another.
“The confidence that all of us have this year is really bringing us up. Last year we were kind of unsure about ourselves and we didn’t really have an identity. Then we had a good start this year and the way we've been playing has really brought our spirits up and basically makes us ready for anyone,” said Senk.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Matt Sevigny- Rocky Hill (Baseball): Sevigny drove in three runs on three hits as #29 Rocky Hill upset #4 Montville 8-5 in a 13 inning-marathon during the opening round of the Class M tourney. The season ended for the scrappy Terriers in round two, but the three-sport senior made a lasting impression during his time at RHHS.
Ryan Saindon- Newington (Baseball): Saindon had a walk-off RBI in the bottom of the 7th inning, driving in Gunnar Johnson as Newington held off Xavier 5-4 in the first round of the Class LL tournament. The junior was a major contributor for an Indians team that fell in the second round at Enfield.
Emily McKenna- Wethersfield (Golf): McKenna shot a tourney-low 77 to finish atop the leaderboard as the Eagles repeated as conference champions, winning the CCC Championships at Tunxis. The senior was joined by teammates Leah Ayers, Taylor Ayers, Sydney Bowers, and Meaghan Murphy at the event. It was the latest accomplishment for an Eagles team that finished the regular season a perfect 16-0.
Matthew Lecky- Middletown (Track & Field): Lecky finished third in the 1600 Meters at the Class L Outdoor Track & Field finals. The senior has had a memorable four years at MHS, both on the track and on the cross country trails.
Anthony Caracoglia- Cromwell (Track & Field): Caracoglia was part of Cromwell’s 4x100 relay team that took first place in the at the Class M Outdoor Track & Field finals, teaming with Dudley Salmon, JJ Tracy, and Ethan Wilson for the championship win. The junior also took home third place in the Long Jump and finished sixth in the Triple Jump.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin