(Sara Caceres serves for Newington)
Chris Wanner has preached togetherness since the first day she took over as the girls’ volleyball coach at Newington High School. Her message is becoming clearer with each passing season.
Last Wednesday night Wanner and her team showcased that togetherness with a three set (25-6, 25-21, 25-8) victory over rival Rocky Hill in their home opener at Richard Rogalski Gymnasium, improving the team to 2-0.
“It’s been part of the core values that we’ve really committed to as a program. The players are really responsive to it and they really bring each other up. They’re a team, like a family for sure,” Wanner said of the 2018 squad, “I’ve worked to develop that and the players have responded really well. Over the year the captains and upperclassmen take on certain roles working with the underclassmen. It helps create that environment of confidence and playing with poise and playing together.”
The team is looking to build on the success of last season when they won 14 regular season games and won a state tourney match for the first time under Wanner, defeating East Hartford in the opening round of Class LL tournament.
Senior setter Azya Bass led the way in the win over Rocky Hill, serving up five aces and two kills. Bass is a two-year starter and has been playing varsity since her sophomore season.
“Her experience absolutely helps. The setter is always important because they are managing the second ball all the time,” the coach said of her returning setter, “I think what really helps us is that everyone does their part and that everyone does the right things at the right times. I think that is a key to why we’re successful so far.”
Bass and Carelys Benitez have formed a special bond and their connection on the court is a noticeable.
“We’re very good friends,” said Benitez, who shined as a sophomore a season ago and has taken her game to another level this fall, “Last year I was not as intense as this year. My defense got better and I tried to improve overall.”
Benitez is normally an outside hitter but due to an injury was filling in as the team’s libero, finishing the match with nine digs, three aces, and two kills.
Bass and Benitez set the tone early as the Indians scored the first six points of the match before coasting to a 19-point win in the opening set.
Senior Alaysiah Hall also had a big opening frame, serving up three of her four aces.
The fast start against Rocky Hill and strong start to the season is something that Wanner credits to experience.
“We’re doing things at the start of the season that we weren’t necessarily doing earlier on in past seasons,” added the fourth-year coach, “We have a little more depth off the bench. One of our players was injured so I played around with the lineup and their experience allows me to do that.”
Juniors Sara Caceres (a team-high 10 digs) and Jola Buffi (two kills and a pair of blocks) are thriving in their starting roles.
Sophomore Madison Massaro-Cook has also stepped into the starting spotlight, registering a team-high seven kills in a season opening straight-sets victory at New Britain.
“Madi loves the game and she played varsity as a freshman. She’s been picking it up really quickly, which is great,” Wanner said of the middle hitter.
Wanner’s team dropped their first set and match of the season last Friday, losing to E.O. Smith in four sets. Hall has a team-high 24 digs and nine kills in defeat.
On the other side of the court, the loss was Rocky Hill’s first of the season after defeating Wethersfield in the season opener.
“This is a team that is learning and growing every day,” said head coach Jackie Valliere, “We’re considered a younger team, we only have three seniors so we are learning and developing sophomores to grow into those roles for this year and next year. It’s definitely a learning year for us, but I’m confident that we can be in a better place than we were tonight.”
The Terriers were unable to capture a set at Newington but showed some good signs along that way.
After a disastrous first set and after falling behind 18-12 in the second, the Terriers clawed their way back into the set by scoring nine of the next 14 points.
Senior captains Julia O’Connor, Amanda Schuman, and Isabelle Miazga led the charge.
“Amanda has improved immensely over the offseason, she’s a really amazing setter and Isabelle is our libero. When everyone is on their game they complement each other very well.”
O’Connor is a two-time all-conference selection and was the driving force behind the win over Wethersfield, compiling an impressive stat line of 17 digs, 15 kills, 10 aces, and five blocks.
“She’s definitely someone who has worked hard to get to where she is and she put in some really hard work in the offseason. She played year round, she challenged herself and she has grown in her role,” Valliere said of O’Connor, “She’s able to be a leader on the court and off the court. She can adapt to any situation and be an asset for me all the way around.”
Valliere’s hope going forward is that the team looks more like the energetic group from the win over Wethersfield opposed to the team that struggled during the loss to Newington.
“Tonight was really tough, that wasn’t the team that I remember from Friday,” Valliere recalled of the three set win over Wethersfield on Sept 7, “They were communicating extremely well, they were acting as a team, they were taking chance, and that is something that I always try and teach them, to go for it at all costs because you never know where greatness can come from.”
Last season the team lost five straight to start the season before battling back to win seven of their final 15 games, finishing within a game of a tournament qualification. 2017’s resiliency showed the direction and attitude that Valliere want the program to have.
“That’s the culture and environment that I try to instill. We want to always be better than the last play or the last set, so never giving up and working hard to the very last second and always improving. We always want to strive to do better and do our best each and every time and each and every day. It’s a good indication that it can happen and it will happen for us.”
The team will next host Middletown, Friday, Sept 21 at 5 p.m.
Game Notes: Turning Point- Caceres Thwarts Rocky Hill’s Rally
After the Terriers had narrowed the deficit to 23-21 in the second set, Caceres had one of her two kills on the evening. Caceres served out the set as the Indians won a long rally, which consisted of 15 hits. Newington’s momentum bled over into the third and final set where they scored the first five points.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Sadie Budzik- Cromwell (Volleyball): Budzik had 14 kills and five aces (including serving 19 service point in a row) in a four set win over Valley Regional last Thursday. The junior outside hitter is a team captain and has been spectacular during the Cromwell’s 4-0 start, totaling 30 kills and 21 aces. Budzik is a three-sport star at CHS, also excelling on the basketball court and softball diamond.
Lorien Touponse- Wethersfield (Field Hockey): Touponse had a memorable week, scoring three goals in a 4-0 victory over Windsor and dishing out an assist in a 1-0 win over Stafford. The sophomore is a natural playmaker with tremendous vision and is a vocal leader on the field. Her efforts helped the Eagles start the season 2-0 for the first time since 1988.
Emma Molloy- Rocky Hill (Soccer): Molloy is a four-year varsity starter and an outstanding center defender for the Terriers. The team dropped their first two games of the season but Molloy’s strength and good sense on defense helped defend and start the attack. The senior captain is definitely a player to watch.
Olivia Mullings- Newington (Soccer): Mulling posted a hat trick, scoring three goals in a 5-0 shutout of Rocky Hill last Wednesday night. The sophomore sensation is one of the many threats on the offensive end for an Indians team that put up 13 goals through their first two games this season.
Xzavier Reyes- Middletown (Football): Reyes rushed for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Blue Dragons dominated Bristol Eastern 41-7 last Friday. The senior steamroller has been the leader of Middletown’s highly-productive rushing attack, totaling 289 totals and five touchdowns over the first two games.
Leave a Reply.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin