By John Goralski
On Tuesday, June 4, Glastonbury volleyball coach Pat Ryan looked exhausted as he greeted reporters after his semifinal victory over Southington at Bulkeley High School. For the third time this season, his senior laden Tomahawks were locked toe-to-toe against the Blue Knights. All three contests were decided, 3-2.
“I was talking to [Blue Knight coach Lou Gianacopolos] this morning on the phone, and I told him that this one was going to go seven games,” said Ryan. “That’s a joke because volleyball games only go five, but after the fourth game I said the same thing to him. It was definitely going seven or there’d be a blackout or something. That’s just the way it goes with us.”
Gianacopolos said the same thing as he greeted the press after the loss. “Today’s match was going to go 7,” said the Southington coach, “and think he meant 7 a.m.”
The conference rivalry almost over-shadowed the championship game a few days later where an opportunistic Staples team took advantage of the fatigued Glastonbury squad to capture their program’s ninth state title.
In a sport that has just a few powerhouse programs scattered throughout the state, the CCC South has become home to three of the state’s top teams with Southington, Glastonbury, and Newington battling for every inch.
“Over the last couple of years this has been the toughest conference, and that makes it better for all of us in the postseason,” said Ryan. “The rivalry with Southington hasn’t always been a friendly rivalry, but over the last couple of years the kids have all played in the same club. They obviously get fired up. Nobody wants to lose, but it’s become a friendly and pretty intense rivalry.”
The game was a see-saw battle right from the start. Glastonbury used a 6-0 rally to blow open a 9-9 tie in game one to take the lead with a 25-17 win. Southington countered in game two with a 7-0 run to overcome an early deficit and even the series with a 25-21 win.
The biggest lead for any team in game three was three points as the teams battled through five ties and 10 lead changes as Southington took their first lead in the series with a two-point victory. Glastonbury counted with a 25-19 win in game four, and that led to their third five-game contest in as many meetings this year. Last season, one of their two matches went five games, and that’s a trend that stretches back for a handful of seasons.
“Playing five games with these guys is just what we do,” Gianacopolos said. “We have our passers and setters, and they have theirs. It’s almost like we’re the same team playing each other. When it comes down to point for point for point in game five, what are you going to do? You’ve just got to do your best, and that’s what we did today. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Southington’s outside hitter Nick Powell attacked the net 55 times for 25 kills. Alex Borofsky and Chris Sherwill added 12 kills apiece, and Jeff Kolb scored nine kills. Last time, that was enough for the Knights to score the victory. This time, Glastonbury matched Southington at the net with 66 kills compared to 64 for the Knights.
“I think it came down to one or two balls here or there,” said Gianacopolos. “The whole game is based on who makes the most errors. We had a few service errors in some situations where we didn’t want them, but you know what? We knew going in that it was going to be what it is. This was a big game, and it’s a lot of pressure for high school kids.”
Alex Zajda distributed 55 assists over five games. Southington servers went 93 percent from the line (94-for-101). Borofsky (6 blocks) and Kolb (4 blocks) led the defense at the net. David Shaughnessy led the back line with 12 digs. Sherwill and Powell scored 11 digs apiece, but it wasn’t enough.
The Knights led, 7-5, in the final contest before Glastonbury went on a run. The Tomahawks scored seven of the next 10 points to take the lead. Glastonbury served for two match points. Southington served for one, but the Tomahawks won the battle with a 17-15 win in game five.
“I told the seniors how proud I was of them and how they conducted themselves over the whole season,” Gianacopolos said. “They were always competitive, but I also told our younger kids to take a good look at them. They’ll be in their shoes some day, and I want them to be as competitive as this group was.”
The loss ended Southington’s season, and the Knights fell to 18-3.
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By John Goralski