Newington setter Riley McManus
The year was 1990. George Herbert Walker Bush was leading the country, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton topped the Billboard charts, and The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan to win the WWF Championship in a “Title for Title” winner-take-all match at WrestleMania VI.
Buried in these and the other early storylines during the turn of the decade was the fact that Newington High School had implemented a boys’ volleyball program. Boys’ volleyball had always been overshadowed by girls’ version of the sport, but 23 successful seasons since their inception, the Newington boys have built a storied tradition that rivals any volleyball program in the state.
The change in perception didn’t happen overnight. Boys’ volleyball in the state of Connecticut had trouble getting the recognition that it deserved for many years. All that changed in 2001 when the sport was sanctioned by the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference). This allowed Newington and others schools with boys’ volleyball programs to compete in conference and league play.
Head coach Curt Burns has been on the forefront for most of the program’s development and success. The veteran coach has been leading the Newington boys since 2004, helping the Indians win six conference titles during his tenure. In 2012, Burns and his boys turned a conference title into a state title, defeating Oxford in the Class M finals. Burns has seen the sport and program grow throughout his time in Newington. However, the coach knows that there are still challenges.
“The level of play has definitely come up over the years, but what’s interesting with volleyball is that we still don’t have any youth programs,” Burns, who is entering his eleventh season at Newington, said, “When boys get to high school they are a little intimidated and they are going to play the sports that they did as a youth.”
Burns said that he hopes to develop a youth program in order to help integrate volleyball into the sports landscape prior to high school.
“We don’t get a large number of kids from the freshman class,” Burns continued, “We’re getting kids that are trying out as juniors and seniors, but by then they’re missing those really important developmental years.”
Despite the challenges, Newington still gets about 20 to 30 athletes who try out for the team each season and Burns believes that volleyball has an advantage over other sports in terms of competition.
“Volleyball is different than a sport like football, where you need an incredibly high number of athletes,” Burns, who has also coached the Avon girls’ volleyball team since 1989, said, “If you have a good nucleus of strong volleyball players, you can go pretty far.”
Newington didn’t get a chance to defend their Class M crown the following the 2012 season. Boys’ volleyball is separated into two divisions, a medium class and large class. Last season, the team was moved up to Class L, but this season they will be back competing at the Class M level.
The 2013 squad was eliminated by conference foe Glastonbury in the quarterfinals of the Class L tournament. Last season Newington was hindered by only having three seniors on the roster, but this season the Indians will be loaded with upperclassman, including 11 seniors. The team also has five starters returning from last season, with three of those players coming off All-Conference seasons and two earning All-State honors.
Junior Jordan Aprea and senior Riley McManus will be the team’s captains. As a sophomore, Aprea finished second on the team in kills, digs, and aces. McManus is the distributor--- the talented setter registered 600 of the team’s 710 assists last season. The two captains will be joined by middle blockers Jonathan Cloutier and Flavio Lici. The 6’4 Cloutier led the team with 50 total blocks and Lici added 26 more rejections in 2013.
With an experienced and talented lineup, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the upcoming season and their coach knows that the expectations are high.
“Our outlook is very positive and we’ve set lofty goals for ourselves,” Burns said, “We feel we are a strong contender to get back to the class M finals.”
The team begins the season with three of their first five matches at home, including back-to-back home tilts against East Hartford (4/16) and Fermi (4/21). Both matches start at 5:00 and Burns welcomes all the support the team can get.
“Volleyball is a great spectator sport, because you’re right on top on the action,” Burns said, “It’s really fan-friendly.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin