By BRIAN JENNINGS
The match was tied 9-9 in the fifth set, and both sides were putting on a show of great volleyball in front of a packed Walt Lozoski gymnasium. On Friday, Oct. 30, the Lady Knights built momentum at the start of the set, built a lead of at 9-5, but RHAM (18-0) stormed back.
RHAM took a 10-9 lead after a spike went for a winner, then Southington coach Rich Heitz called for a timeout. Following the timeout, RHAM went up 11-9 with a block. Southington cut the RHAM lead to one point on a Megan Mahon spike that bounced off of a RHAM player and zoomed out of bounds. RHAM jumped back up to a two-point advantage, but immediate followed with a whiff on a spike to bring the score to 12-11.
After a couple volleys back and forth over the net, RHAM sailed a ball down the left line that was called in, catching the line, but Heitz, along with the rest of the Southington crowd, threw his arms up in disbelief. Heitz said that he thought the ball landed out of bounds.
“I was standing on the line, and we had a tough point that didn’t go for us,” said Heitz. “I think one went against RHAM earlier in the night. Most things tend to even out.”
The point not only gave RHAM the lead, but it gave them the momentum to grab the next two points and take a 14-12 lead. Heitz called for another timeout.
Sylwia Lewkowicz kept Southington in the match with a spike to make it 14-13, but RHAM sealed the win with a spike that went down the line for the game winner, 3-2 (16-25, 21-25, 27-25, 25-20, 13-15).
“In the first set, we started out well, but then we started making some mental mistakes and gave the momentum,” said Heitz. “Then, they kind of rolled us. In the second set, we were doing much better, but then we gave them the momentum at the end and they rolled us a few points. We wanted to make sure that we played aggressive. We got in trouble when we started to play safe. I had to make some lineup changes in the second and third sets that looked like it helped us.”
After losing the first two sets, the Knights fought their way back to take the third and fourth sets to force a fifth set. Southington trailed RHAM 16-7 in the third set.
“It’s either we pack it in and go home or we fight to make it as close as we can,” the coach said. “We grabbed the momentum and started to get a little more confident in ourselves. We took that into the fourth set and took it into the fifth. We had that 9-5 lead, but then it just shifted on us. It’s a tough loss, but I’m glad we competed and were right there at the end. It could have gone either way.”
Lewkowicz controlled the air strike with 17 kills on 43 attempts and was a force up front with five blocks. Kelsea Allen (six digs) spiked 11 kills and also stood strong with five blocks. Emily Mankus (17 digs, seven kills) was 18-for-20 from the back line with six aces.
Nicole Groll (48 serves received) fortified the defense with 20 digs. Morgan Raymond (33 serves received, eight kills) was right there as well with 18 digs. Samantha Lohneiss (four digs, three aces) set up the attack with 27 assists. Stephanie Zera set up 11 assists.
A couple days previously on Wednesday, Southington traveled to Meriden where they defeated Maloney (9-9), 3-0 (25-10, 25-14, 25-15).
Lohneiss was 27-for-29 serving with 11 aces. Lewkowicz (two blocks) charged the net with 12 kills on 20 attempts. Raymond (three digs) contributed with four kills.
Groll held down the middle with five digs. Zera (three digs) dished out 24 assists.
At the beginning of the week on Monday, the Knights ventured out to West Hartford for a 3-0 (25-13, 25-18, 25-15) victory over Conard (5-13).
Lewkowicz attacked the defense with 10 kills on 16 attempts. Allen (two blocks) was 12-of-14 serving with six aces. Groll (two digs) was 9-of-10 serving with three aces. Kelly Kritz contributed with four kills.
Zera aided the defense with five digs and balanced the offense with 21 assists. Mankus (three kills) contributed with three digs and Raymond with two.
Southington finished the regular season with a 16-2 record, making them first (7-1 in division) in the Blue Division of the Central Region and fourth in the CCC and Class LL. The Knights will receive a bye in the upcoming conference tournament as No.2-seed, and are expected to host the winner of No.10-seed E.O. Smith (14-5) at No.7-seed Newington (16-4) on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 6pm. No.1-seed RHAM, No.3-seed Farmington (16-2), and No.4-seed Bristol Eastern (16-2) received first-round byes as well.
Pairings for the Class LL state tournament are to be posted by the CIAC by noon on Friday, Nov. 6.