By JOHN GORALSKI
Caroline Barry served five straight points in the middle of game two as the Knights scrambled to tie the score. Maryssa Romano pounded out nine kills from the outside, and Sylwia Lewkowicz held her own in the middle with 12 kills.
Southington coaches shuffled underclassmen in and out of the lineup as the upperclassmen tried to hold off the top ranked Cheshire team in the Class LL quarterfinals. The Rams advanced with a 3-0 sweep, but the Knights went down swinging.
Coach Rich Heitz didn’t know what to expect when Southington entered this season after a one-and-done effort last fall, but 2014 could be a remembered as a turning point—the year that Southington took the first step toward another state title.
“It was a successful year for the seniors, and I think that the younger kids have something to build on,” said Heitz. “Our junior class is really competitive, and I think they’ll learn from this experience. The seniors did that last year. We got tripped up in the first round, but they had a little better year this year. Last year, we didn’t even make the CCC tournament.”
Still, the defending Class LL champions proved too much to handle.
“We knew what we were going against,” said Heitz. “They’re tall, and we haven’t played teams this tall very often. We weren’t blocking as many because they were going over us a little bit.”
On the other hand, No. 8 Southington gave Cheshire just about as much as they could handle. Cheshire needed an 8-0 rally in game one to turn a 9-9 deadlock into a 25-15 win.
Southington battled back from a four point deficit to go point-for-point in game two, and the Knights led by as many as eight points in game three before the Rams battled back. Cheshire eked victories in both games, 25-20 and 25-21, to clinch the series, but the loss ended Southington’s fall campaign.
“We missed more serves than I would like to miss at critical times,” said Heitz. “I had a kid that missed 10 serves the whole season, but she missed three tonight. That’s tough. They missed some serves early on, too, but when it got late we missed a few more than them.”
Sylwia Lewkowicz powered the Knights in the middle with 12 kills and two blocks. Romano finished with nine kills, and Morgan McCarthy finished out her varsity career with 12 assists. Freshman setter Stephanie Zera distributed 14 assists down the stretch, and the junior class did the rest.
Lewkowicz led the way. Kelsea Allen scored five kills and two blocks. Michelle Stublarec added five kills, and Nicole Groll anchored the defense with 12 digs.
Heitz said it’s a good sign for next year.
“I had some young kids out there, and I thought they competed. We knew what we were up against. We were starting five juniors, and I had a freshman setter out there for a good chunk of the match,” he said. “The thing about juniors is that, as seniors, they become a little more consistent. I had a freshman setter out there, and you can’t give her this in practice and you can’t give it to her in the regular season.”
The Knights began their run at home on Monday with an easy 3-0 sweep of No. 25 Bristol Central. Lewkowicz (5 blocks) and Romano (7 digs) powered the attack with 15 kills apiece as Southington dismantled the Rams, 25-14, 25-18, and 25-19. McCarthy distributed 22 assists in the victory. Barry had six kills and Allen had five. Groll anchored the defense with nine digs.
Southington had five hitting errors in game one but finished with just 11 errors over the three game series.
“We started out a little slow, but sometimes you get a little bit of that first-game jitters,” said Heitz. “That’s why I like to play on the first round. A lot of times, when you get a bye, you’re playing Thursday night and that’s when you get those first game jitters. I thought that, from the end of the first set to probably the first 20 points of the second set I thought we played really, really well.”
Kateri Downes sparked the second round win over No. 9 Newtown with a pair of serving rallies in game one and game two. Downes (23-for-23, 4 aces) served a 12-0 run to cap the first game and scored a 9-0 rally in game two.
As a team, the Knights went 86.8 percent from the line as they swept past Newtown, 25-17, 25-17, and 25-18.
“Kateri did a phenomenal job hitting spots tonight, but she’s been our best server the whole season. Tonight, she was dead on where we wanted her to serve,” said Heitz. “[Kyle Dandrea] is a phenomenal player for Newtown. I could see it in warm-ups, but they had trouble getting her the ball sometimes because kids like Kateri did such a good job serving. Danielle David also did a great job serving, and Sam [Loehneiss] did a great job in the third set.”
Romano paced the scoring with 14 kills. Lewkowicz finished with 10 kills and seven blocks. Emily Mankus anchored the defense with nine digs.
“The way it started out there. We were missing some serves and they had more emotion than us,” Heitz said. “If we didn’t pull that first game out, you could have had a whole different match.”
With the victory over Newtown, Southington earned its first quarterfinal berth since 2012. With the loss to Cheshire, Southington ended their fall campaign with a 17-6 record.
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By JOHN GORALSKI