By BRIAN JENNINGS
The seventh-ranked Lady Knight volleyball team went up two sets to one, 25-15, 29-27, 21-25, at No. 2 Amity on Saturday, Nov. 12 in the quarterfinals of the Class LL tournament. Southington quickly went up, 15-3, in the fourth set and extended their lead to a hefty 22-7 advantage, three points away from a date with No. 3 Stamford in the semifinals.
The story was already written: The Knights were going to the semifinals for the second-straight year.
Then, like a piece of clothing with a loose thread, Southington began to unravel. Amity rallied back with an 18-1 run to take the fourth set, 25-23. With each point, the gymnasium became more and more deafening. Spartan fans stomped their feet in the stands and waved their black and yellow towels from the railings of the top level. The Knights were taken out of their game, and the confidence they built from the first two sets had vanished.
With the momentum they built from the fourth set, Amity capped off the rally by taking the fifth set, 15-8. What once seemed like an irrefutable fact quickly turned into a shocking 3-2 collapse, as Southington’s postseason run dramatically came to an end.
“I haven’t experienced that in 23 years of coaching,” said Southington coach Rich Heitz. “I don’t know what happened, but it’s something I never experienced before. Amity was playing for their lives obviously, and the match was over if they lost. We came out flat in set three, but played really well in set four. I don’t think anyone can explain what happened.”
Hannah Zelina (4 digs) attacked the net for 14 kills and 3 blocks. Morgan Raymond added 13 kill, five aces, and 19 digs, and Erica Bruno chipped in 11 kills with three blocks. Stephanie Zera (6 digs) distributed 47 assists. Nolyn Allen anchored the defense with 15 digs.
Erica Daigle (4 digs, 4 aces), Kelly Kritz (9 kills, 7 digs), and Megan Mahon (9 kills, 7 digs) contributed.
“Our game plan was to serve them tough, and I think we did that for the most part,” said Heitz. “When they started getting closer, we started playing a little safer and safer. You can’t play safe in this sport.”
Southington reached the quarterfinals with a 3-1 victory over No. 10 Shelton in the second round. The Knights hosted after a bye in the first round, and wasted no time with a 27-25 win in game one. Shelton tied the match with a 25-16 win in game two, but Southington rallied for consecutive victories, 25-18 and 25-21, to put the match away.
It was Southington’s ninth appearance in the quarterfinals in Heitz’s 16-year tenure with the varsity program. The Knights have only missed qualifying for the state tournament just once under Heitz.
Raymond (11 digs, 2 blocks) paced the offense with 18 kills. Mahon added 15 kills and six digs. Zera collected 42 assists, eight digs, and three aces. Allen anchored the defense with 13 digs.
Zelina (3 aces), Kritz (7 kills, 5 digs), Bruno (6 kills, 2 blocks), and Sarah Myrick (5 digs) contributed.
The season might be over for the Knights, but it’s not over for Raymond. She will represent Southington in the 2016 Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) Senior All-Star Game at Maloney High School in Meriden on Monday, Nov. 21st at 6:30 pm.
The All-Star Game is a prestigious event, where some of the top high school players in the state have an opportunity to compete together that evening in a five-set match. Only 26 players from the state of Connecticut—13 per team—are selected.
“The girls are very happy for her, and I’m very proud of her,” said Heitz. “It’s one of the crowning achievements on a successful career and all of the hard work she’s put into volleyball. For her to be considered as one of the top seniors in the state Connecticut is a special recognition.”
Southington finished the season with a 16-4 record.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at email@example.com.