The Newington boys’ volleyball team battled back from two sets down to defeat South Windsor (24-26, 20-25, 25-18, 25-15, 16-14) in a five-set marathon, capturing the Class M championship and winning their third title in the last four years.
“It’s so surreal right now. I’m still trying to soak it all in, it’s the best way to go out,” senior captain Vinh Dau said as hundreds of Newington students celebrated with the victorious team on June 8.
South Windsor jumped out to what seemed like an insurmountable lead, winning the first two sets, but Newington roared back and took the next three sets behind a series of hustle plays, timely serves, and a raucous crowd that packed Plainville High School.
“We were confident because against Lewis Mills in the first round we were down two sets as well and we were able to come back. We just stayed confident and we never gave up,” said junior Dan Cloutier, who came off the bench to serve out the final six points of the third set, “Coach always says stay ready. I just wanted to create a spark off the bench and mix it up a little bit and I was glad that I was able to do that.”
Cloutier’s efforts allowed the Indians to take the third frame and seniors Andres Ithier-Vicenty and Kevin Bilbraut dominated he fourth set as Newington evened the match and forced a decisive fifth set.
Ithier-Vicenty finished with a team-high 25 kills and Bilbraut earned MVP honors of the match with his spectacular play from his libero position. Bilbraut made several brilliant diving saves, finishing the with 31 digs and serving up three aces.
“The game is never over, we just keep playing. That’s something we’ve built on, we’ve built on the fact that the game is never over until the final point and the final whistle,” junior setter Evan Metzger said immediately following the monumental comeback, “Going into that last set knew we had to close. It’s a 15-point set, so we had to keep the errors minimal and we had to keep fighting no matter what.”
The Bobcats of South Windsor scored the first three points of the final stanza, but Metzger helped close out the Indians’ final rally of the season. The junior dished out the last of his 55 assists, a perfectly placed pass to senior Zach Harmon, who slammed down the championship-clinching point.
“We had been in this position so many times before and we just had to stay focused and come back,” recalled Dau, who served up the championship-winning rally, “We were even more focused and more hungry after losing the first two sets.”
It was the final turnaround for a team that also came back to win from two sets down in the first-round of the tourney and began the season losing four of their first eight matches, including a straight-sets loss to South Windsor on April 5.
“It’s been a tremendous 180. We knew we had the skills and we knew we had the ability to be great. We kept working in practice and we kept working the games. We’re a family,” said Metzger.
The win was another notch in the belt for head coach Curt Burns, who has now guided the Indians to five championship matches since 2011, winning four of them.
“He really drills the skills into us,” Dau said of his veteran coach, “He’s very consistent with his coaching and he’s always really supportive.”
“Coach Burns runs a great program. We’re just able to win it over and over, it’s gotta be the coach,” added a smiling Cloutier.
As of now, Cloutier and Metzger will be the only seniors on the roster in 2018.
Dau, Ithier-Vicenty, Bilbraut, and Harmon are four of eight players who are graduating.
Losing that much talent would normally force a program into a rebuilding mode, but the Newington volleyball team doesn’t believe in rebuilding. They just reload.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin