By KEVIN ROBERTS
There were many tears shed after Southington girls volleyball’s 3-2 Class LL semifinal loss to Darien on Nov. 14 at Shelton High School. The top-seeded Lady Knights wanted their postseason journey to end at the state final at East Haven High School on Nov. 16.
Instead, the state tournament run ended in the semifinal round for the second straight year. Southington hasn’t been to a final since 2011.
The Nov. 14 semifinal was further proof that seeds don’t matter in the postseason. No. 12 Darien, a long-time nemesis of top-seeded Southington in multiple sports, won the match with set scores of 27-29, 26-24, 25-23, 19-25 and 15-12. The Lady Knights finished with an overall record of 21-2, and both losses were in five sets.
“In Class LL, you’re going to play great teams every year,” coach Rich Heitz said. “Class LL is a different beast. Sometimes the ball goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight wasn’t our night. We got beat by a very good team.”
The Lady Knights gave it their all, but it wasn’t enough in the end. It was the final match for seniors Haley Larrabee, Jenna Martin, Lynsey Danko, Olivia Carpenter and Keishla Rosario. Larrabee, Martin and Danko were the captains.
“My heart goes out to these seniors,” Heitz said. “They were the leaders of a group that I truly enjoyed being in the gym with each and every day. The respect that the captains had from their teammates and staff says a lot about the type of young ladies and leaders that they were.”
Heitz said the 2018 team was “truly special.” Larrabee had 16 kills and 20 digs while Martin added seven kills and 30 digs. Carpenter had 48 assists and four aces while Danko added 19 digs. Junior Brooke Cooney tallied 14 kills and 18 digs.
Southington, especially sophomores Veronika Gorski (5 kills, 2 blocks) and Kayli Garcia (5 kills, 2 blocks), had to contend with height that it hadn’t seen all season. Darien junior Hassana Arbubakrr, listed at 6-foot-2 on MaxPreps, was a big factor with 14 kills and nine blocks. Freshman Aerin Bowman – also over six feet tall – had eight kills.
“It took us a little bit to adjust,” Heitz said about Darien’s height. “I think we adjusted to that in the middle of the third set fairly well, but it didn’t carry us through in the third.”
There were 14 ties in that third set, the last coming on a Cooney kill at 23-23. The Blue Wave took the last two points, along with the set and a 2-1 match lead. The Lady Knights made six service errors in the third set.
Southington came out on fire in the fourth set, building three 11-point leads, the last coming at 19-8. Cooney had six kills in the set and Larrabee added five.
“Brooke and Haley had some good swings in that fourth set,” Heitz said.
Darien fought back to a four-point deficit at 23-19, but a service error and a Gorski tip gave Southington the set and tied the match at 2-2. The Lady Knights took a 2-0 lead in the 15-point fifth set, but the Blue Wave responded and claimed an 8-5 advantage. Southington got to within a point at 8-7, fell behind 10-7, and then finally caught Darien at 10-10 on back-to-back kills from Martin and Cooney. There was another tie at 11-11 on a Cooney kill, then a Martin ace glanced off of the top of the net and put the Lady Knights up 12-11. It would be their last lead.
“We were down 8-5 there, and we battled back. We just couldn’t get over the hurdle,” Heitz said.
The Blue Wave scored the match’s final four points to claim victory. Heitz and his coaches were left to offer comfort to their players.
“I told them to not let a night that didn’t go our way to be their strongest, ever-lasting memory for the season,” Heitz said. “It’s about relationships and the effort they gave as a team the whole year long that they should want to look back at and remember.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com