By KEVIN ROBERTS
After a pair of straight-set sweeps over Conard and Rockville to begin the week, Southington boys volleyball found itself in an unfamiliar place on April 25 at Newington. The Blue Knights were behind, and they were trailing big-time.
Newington led two sets to none (23-25, 17-25) and had its partisans among the crowd inside the Richard Rogalski Gymnasium fired up.
“We regrouped and said ok, we have to come back from this,” senior captain Tim Walsh said.
The comeback was slow to start, and the Indians even had a sizable lead in the third set. The Knights started to gain momentum, however, and swung it in their favor. Southington wound up winning the third set, 25-23, then took the fourth set, 25-17.
The Indians jumped out to an early lead in the 15-point fifth set, but the Knights rallied again and had match point, up 14-12. Brandon Wolff smacked a ball from the right side of the net, and a Newington block couldn’t keep it on Southington’s side. The point gave the Knights the set, 15-12, and the match by a score of 3-2.
“We just had two or three points in a row, and the momentum just kept going. It carried into the fourth and fifth set, and got us the win. It was amazing,” Walsh said.
Southington’s string of nine perfect, 3-0 sweeps came to an end. But at 10-0, the Knights are still perfect where at counts. The last match was the toughest to date this season, but it was also the most satisfying.
“This gets your team ready for the playoffs,” said Southington coach Lou Gianacopolous. Whether you win or lose, you’re always going to get something good out of this match.”
Here’s what happened in each match:
Conard battles, but falls
APRIL 22—The Chieftains hung tough at times, but the Knights were too much and won 3-0. The set scores were 25-18, 25-19, 25-15.
“We had a couple plays we had tonight where we’d lose the point, but it was a great point,” Gianacopolos said. “Even our crowd was like we lost the point, but it was a good cheer, because it was just a great hustle and effort.”
John Idian personified that effort with a couple dives on the floor, including getting to a ball that seemed impossible to reach. He had 10 digs and was 17-for-17 serving with one ace.
“John Idian has made a huge improvement, but also has taken the position to the level where we need him,” Gianacopolos said. “He knows he can focus down low and doesn’t have to be up high at all, and he’s just doing very well, he’s seeing well.”
Zack Morgan had 25 assists and was 9-for-11 on serves. Walsh tallied 12 kills while Wolff had six kills and three digs. Rocco Possidento picked up five kills while Adam Hunter had four kills, one ace and six digs.
Tweaking things vs. Rockville
APRIL 24—The Rams have been struggling this season, but they did put up a fight at times against the Knights, who still won 3-0. The set scores were 25-19, 25-18, 25-16.
It wasn’t the easiest thing to play Rockville before taking on undefeated Newington, but Gianacopolos said he saw it as a great opportunity.
“It was a great opportunity for our first ball and two balls to improve, and when we do that, you know you’re going to be there and you know you’re going to be alive for [the Newington] match,” Gianacopolos said.
Walsh led the way with 15 kills, six aces and one block assist. Morgan recorded 31 assists, two aces, two kills and eight digs. Adam Hunter had nine kills, two aces and four digs while Possidento added five kills, one solo block and one block assist. Idian (two aces), Justin Miranda and Sam Miranda were a combined 34-for-37 serving.
Comeback in Newington
APRIL 25—The long road back began with the third set, but once the Knight took the third set from the Indians, they were back in the match.
Southington rolled in the fourth set, then overcame an early deficit to win the 15-point fifth set. Gianacopolos said the Knights struggled serving in the first two sets, which allowed the big middles of the Indians to blast away at the net. Southington started serving to tougher spots, and the Newington attack became less effective.
Gianacopolos said he told the team to feed Walsh and see where it took them. They did, and Walsh tallied 23 kills, plus a team-high 17 digs, an ace and two block assists. Morgan recorded 43 assists, 10 digs, one ace, two block assists and had just two ball-handling errors.
“Zack Morgan was crazy tonight. He was getting touches off of everything, and John Idian was getting the digs behind him,” Walsh said.
Idian had 16 digs and two aces while Adam Hunter added 10 kills, three digs, one ace and one solo block. Possidento tallied nine kills, one solo block and two block assists. Wolff wound up with four kills while Brett Hunter had three kills, three digs, two solo blocks and two block assists. Justin Miranda was a perfect 15-for-15 serving and added five digs.
Walsh lauded the efforts of the blockers in the middle, which became contagious.
“Those blocks carried over to the outside, and we got a ton of blocks out there. The momentum just kept carrying,” Walsh said.
The momentum carried Southington to the win and gave Newington its first loss. The Knights and Indians also treated those gathered inside the Rogalski gymnasium to a tournament-like effort.
“That just gets the teams going. That was insane, it was a great crowd,” Walsh said. “We put on a good game for them, but Newington still played phenomenal. They were hitting our weaknesses and we were making some errors, but we figured it out and we came away with the win.”
Up next: Southington faced Simsbury on Tuesday at home before heading out on the road against East Hartford on Wednesday. The Knights are at Maloney at 6 p.m. on Friday.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com