By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knights boys volleyball team (12-7) didn’t just lose to Darien (18-2) in the quarterfinal of the Class L Tournament, they barely lost, by two points in the fifth set.
The No.10-seed Knights took the No.2-seed to five sets on Thursday night, June 4 at their place after winning the second and fourth sets in tiebreakers both times, 25-19, 24-26, 25-18, 27-29. Darien would go on to take the match in the decisive fifth set, 17-15. The match was only the second time all season that the Knights went to a fifth set.
“Normally some gyms are not inviting, don’t make you feel like at home, and don’t make you feel comfortable, but when we walked in the Darien’s gym, their color scheme was similar to ours and the gym floor was similar to ours,” said Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos. “It felt really good going into that match and playing there. Sometimes home courts have an advantage on away teams, but being away this match, I haven’t felt that in a long time.”
Mark Horanzy powered the offense with 18 kills (.406 hitting percentage). Adam Brush had 12 kills and four blocks. Adam Viviano distributed 44 assists and dug nine balls. Curtis Topper (2 aces), Dan Normandin (7 blocks), and Jack Dietz (6 blocks) contributed to Southington’s effort.
Southington tied the fifth set, 14-14, and took a one point lead at match point before Darien rallied for the win.
“We proved to ourselves that we could contend with one of the best teams in the state,” said the coach, pointing to a tough point that gave Darien the lead for good. “The ball was served very low, hit the net, just trickled over, and fell to the floor about a foot away from the net. No team is prepared for that, and we don’t practice that. The ball either rolls for you or against you. That ball just happened to be rolling for Darien, but I couldn’t have been more proud of my guys.”
Gianacopolos went on to say that he has the utmost respect for Darien’s coach, Laurie LaRusso.
“Laurie said to me afterwards that when she saw that serve going, she was trying to blow it over,” said Gianacopolos. “It was pretty cool to see the respect that Laurie gave to us. She is the top coach in the state. For both girls’ and boy’s volleyball, she is the best coach that I’ve ever met. I learn from her as often as possible.”
The Knights began the tournament by taking a trip down to Westport on Monday night to play a familiar No.7-seed Staples (14-4) in the first round. Staples had defeated the Knights, 3-1 at Southington earlier in the regular season, but that wasn’t the case here. After dropping the first game, 24-26, the Knights roared back to take the next three games 25-21, 25-18, 25-23.
“We prepared very well in the classroom,” the Knights coach said. “We took all the information, and it was right there. It was dead knots. We prepared like we hadn’t prepared for any other match this year. The kids were given information, and they absorbed it. They were taking pictures of it, memorizing it, and took it home with them.”
Horanzy stormed the net with 25 kills (.600 hitting percentage). Normandin had 10 kills and four aces. Viviano distributed 49 assists, and Del Buono anchored the defense with 15 digs. Jack Dietz (4 blocks), Normandin (2 blocks), and Adam Brush (4 blocks) stopped the Staples net game.
“We found something today,” said Gianacopolos. “It was the most important thing they found all season and all for all four years. We were always talking about how we had to find ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ was, but we know what ‘it’ is now. We found it today and these guys were even saying it. Coach Ed and myself threw something against the wall and I heard it on the court. They used it amongst themselves. I said, ‘Gentleman, that was a great point, but we need more. That was a great set, but we need more sets. We need more attacks, more digs.’ It wasn’t about getting excited for that point. It wasn’t about anything, but just doing more. This entire team tonight did more.”
The Knights finished the season with a 13-8 record and a trip to the quarterfinals.