(Wethersfield volleyball celebrated Senior Night last Monday, recognizing senior players Tatum Lewis-Holcombe, Kacia Claffey, Emily McKenna, and Marina Pernio. Photo- Jo-Ann Campbell)
Rocky Hill and Wethersfield volleyball gave the fans inside WHS an early Halloween treat last Monday night, dueling in a back-and-forth match that ended with the visiting Terriers winning a five-set classic (19-25, 25-17, 23-25, 25-17, 15-7).
It was victory #8 for Rocky Hill, qualifying the Terriers for the postseason.
“It’s really satisfying. These ladies have been through a lot this season, learning how to work together,” said Rocky Hill coach Jackie Valliere, whose team finished one win shy of a tournament appearance last fall, “We’re a very young team and it’s great to be able to form and mesh well together and have these wins. A lot of them haven’t made it before so it’s their first experience. It’s really, really exciting.”
The tourney qualifier wasn’t easy and required a rally, with the road team stealing the final two sets after dropping the first and third.
Senior captain Julia O’Connor once again led the charge, sparking an 8-2 run in the fourth after the Terriers fell behind 14-11 in the win-or-go-home frame.
“She just basically said that it’s our game to win and that we need to play and be the team that we are,” O’Connor said of her coach’s message during the pivotal set, “It’s great because two years ago, my sophomore year, this is the game that we made it into states too. It’s very satisfying.”
O’Connor polished off the fourth set with a kill and served out the last four points, including a pair of aces. She finished with 19 kills, nine digs, three aces, and two blocks in the marathon match.
After overcoming the adversity in set four, the Terriers capitalized on the momentum and jumped out to an 11-1 lead in the fifth before holding off a late rally from the home team.
“We’ve been talking about playing with an aggressive mentality and knowing that you’re going to make the right pass, the right kill, the right set, the right everything. Being able to make the plays when they happen, that’s what we’ve been talking about all season,” Valliere said of her resilient squad, who played only their third five-set match of the season, “To be able to play aggressively for a longer period of time and to have the yoyo scoring and be able to pull through. It’s a mental game and it’s good to have that practice.”
Amanda Schuman steadied the team in the win, dishing out a game-high 33 assists and four aces. The setter shares the senior captain duties with O’Connor and the two have created a dynamic one-two punch.
“We’re a lot closer as a team than we were last season, especially me and Amanda. We’ve had two years together so there’s just a greater connection and we play better together,” stated O’Connor, “I think we’re a very close team and we work very well together when we have our head in the game.”
High-energy sparkplugs Daria Kokic and Lydia Tzickas also came up big in the victory. The two juniors combined for eight kills and eight digs, many coming at crucial times in the match.
Kokic is a team captain and Tzickas is getting more confortable on the court with each passing match.
“She’s really working on her timing and her passing is getting better. Everything is getting better this season for her. It’s really fun watching her getting those kills and having a nice snap and swing because that’s what we’re working for all the time,” Valliere said of Tzickas, “She’s really going to be someone to watch out for next year.”
Rocky Hill’s joy was Wethersfield’s disappointment. It completed a series sweep for the Terriers over their neighboring rivals, also winning the season opener on Sept 7 in three sets.
Monday’s loss eliminated the Eagles from postseason contention and dampened an otherwise festive Senior Night.
Seniors Marina Pernoi, Emily McKenna, Kacia Claffey, and Tatum Lewis-Holcombe were honored prior to the game and then helped the Eagles win the first set wire-to-wire.
“They came out on fire in that first set, probably because it was Senior Night,” said Wethersfield coach Debbie O’Brien “We have our seniors in key roles and all four are full time starters. They’re upset that they didn’t qualify for the tournament but they are proud of what they’ve done here.”
Pernoi and McKenna were team captains. Claffey was a productive setter, who had 24 assists and seven aces against Rocky Hill, and Lewis-Holcomb played libero.
Their senior leadership was again on display during the third set when the Eagles fell behind 20-12 before scoring 15 of the next 18 points to capture the set.
“We got down but they were able to fight back,” stated O’Brien, “We always talk about staying in the moment, playing one point at a time. That’s a constant that we play one point at a time. We talk about it a lot in practice and it’s been an all season thing. Tonight they were just able to execute in set three.”
Junior Megan Kelleher ignited the rally with six straight service points, including four of her seven aces in the third set.
“She played a lot in the offseason so that helped as far as experience. She has a lot more court sense and awareness and is really able to react to the ball and the play,” O’Brien said of Kelleher, who led the team in kills this season, including a dozen verse Rocky Hill, “She’s a key part of our offense and between her, Alice [Kelly] and Erica [Christie] we have some key pieces coming back.”
The trio will give O’Brien a lot of firepower next fall.
Kelly has become a force on the front line, translating her basketball skills to the volleyball court.
“She does a good job up front hitting and she’s an athlete. She’s well-conditioned and trained, and a bit of a gym rat,” O’Brien said of Kelly, who led the team in aces this season, “She’s improved as far as reading the plays, reading the court, and her movement.”
Christie is a sophomore but her role quickly expanded as the season went along.
“She’s a great natural athlete and she’s a real coachable kid that sucks everything up, she is like a sponge and just pulls it all in,” said O’Brien, “She’s do anything she can to improve because she wants to improve and works so hard and sets a high standard for herself.”
The Eagles finished 2018 with a record of 6-14 after falling to Newington in three sets in the season finale last Thursday. Pernoi had 13 digs and three aces in her final game in an Eagles uniform.
Maddie Massaro-Cook had 6 kills and Azya Bass dished out 22 assists for the Indians, who wrapped up a 14-win regular season.
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Bryan Lockwood- Cromwell (Football): Lockwood ran for a pair of touchdowns, helping the Panthers improve to 6-1 with a thrilling 21-14 overtime victory over Valley Regional/Old Lyme. The senior running back now has 11 total touchdowns this season, eight on the ground and three through the air.
Elizabeth Stockman- Rocky Hill (Cross Country): Stockman defended her state title, winning the Class M championship for the second consecutive season. The junior bested her time from last fall by over a minute and finished 52 seconds ahead of the runner-up at Wickham Park in Manchester last Friday. Next up is the State Open this Friday, Nov 2, at Wickham Park starting at 2 pm.
Connor Pace - Wethersfield (Football): Pace was impactful in all three phases of the game during Wethersfield’s 21-20 road upset of Windsor last Friday night. The junior hauled in a 30-yard pass to set up the Eagles first score, returned a block punt for another score, and caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as the Eagles snapped a two game losing skid and improved to 4-3 on the season.
Sam Giesler- Newington (Cross Country): Geisler finished 6th overall, with a time of 16:33 (pace: 5:21), at the Class L championships last Friday at Wickham Park in Manchester. The sophomore’s efforts and top 20 finishes from Aiden Toth (13th) and Michael Bohlke (16th) helped the Indians finish third overall as a team at the class finals.
Osbourne Richards- Middletown (Football): Richards tallied a team-high eight tackles and a sack as Middletown’s defense dominated, blanking Newington 42-0 last Friday night. The senior has registered a sack in five of the team’s seven games during the Blue Dragons undefeated start.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin