Ellington and RHAM Girls Volleyball Fall in State Finals

BERLIN-For Ellington volleyball, 2015 was a season of progression and improvement. The Knights grew immensely both individually and as a group throughout the season, and their talent was constantly in display over the past two weeks during the team’s run to the Class M finals. Even if Ellington was unable to reach their ultimate goal Saturday afternoon by losing to Waterford, they ended the year with a lot to be proud of.

Fourth-seeded Waterford swept seventh-seeded Ellington 25-18, 25-13, and 25-13 Saturday at Berlin High School to win its first state title in program history. The Knights were also competing to obtain their first state title after losing once before.

Waterford was led by senior Mikayla Shelburn, who earned the game’s Most Valuable Player honors. Despite playing with a broken thumb, Shelburn record a game-high 12 kills and four digs. For Ellington, senior Cassie Holmes led the way with eight kills and six digs.

“I think today was the first time that we had some middles to face that were tall,” Ellington coach Allison Watras said. “It caught us a little by surprise. We were doing our best to get around the blocks and in the end they outmatched us. It was a deserved win by them.”

Each of the three sets followed a similarly disappointing pattern for the Ellington players, during which the teams would play evenly with one another for its early portion before the Lancers went on a long run that put them in control.

In the opening set, the Knights (17-7) trailed Waterford (20-4) 11-13 but then lost 10 consecutive points to put the win out of reach. The Lancers run was supported by strong serving by Haley Taylor, and they did a good job of setting up pinpoint returns for Shelburn and others and forcing Ellington players out of position with their hits.

“They kept moving the ball around and placing it really well. It was hard to adjust to and we just couldn’t get to everything,” Ellington senior Bri DeLand said. “We should have been more prepared and on our toes more.”

The Knights were able to stay with Waterford longer in the second set, and found themselves tied at 12 when senior Erin Wardrop smacked a pair of kills. It was the last thing they had to smile about though, as the Lancers proceeded to go on a 13-1 run, highlighted by two aces from Mikayla Tourjee and two kills and a tip-in point by Shelburn.

“The player’s communication with one another today definitely wasn’t their best,” Watras said. “I think they were a little rattled playing on this stage and the crowd got into their heads a little bit. That being said, they worked their butts off and tried their best.”

In the final set, Waterford again went on a long run triggered by Taylor’s precise serving, this time of 10-2.

In addition to Holmes, Wardrop smacked six kills, Deland recorded 17 digs and junior Sawyer Morrow had seven assists.  For Waterford, Vanessa Kobyluck made 32 assists and Tourjee 10 kills.

“I’m still trying to bring myself back down to earth after this game,” Waterford head coach Beau Lucas said. “I think it’s amazing that we won and they deserve it. I can’t think of another team that deserved it more after all our 10 seniors have been through their past four seasons.”

Watras strongly praised her squad for its entire body of work this season.

“I cannot be prouder of this team,” she said. “They worked so hard to improve as a group, and that growth we showed is what allowed us to go on a tournament run and reach here. Our team hadn’t ever advanced to and played at this type of level, so I’m glad my younger players were able to see this. Hopefully they can build on it and get better. I’m looking to get back to the finals as soon as possible.”

“This season was amazing,” DeLand said. “These are a great group of girls and we had amazing memories with one another. It’s a great way to end my high school career.”

RHAM Loses to Rival Platt in Four Sets in Class L Final’

Two weeks ago, Platt-Meriden denied RHAM a CCC Tournament conference championship in the final, handing the Sachems their first loss in the process. Earlier today, the Sachems had the chance to return the favor if they could defeat the Panthers in the Class L championship game. However, Platt would have none of it.

Seventh-seeded Platt defeated top-seeded RHAM 3-1 (25-20, 18-25, 25-20, 25-22) in front of more than 1,200 at Berlin High. The Panthers program won its first championship since 1990, while RHAM was unable to triumph in its eighth finals appearance in nine seasons. It lost in last year’s finals as well.

Platt was led by senior star Gabriela Vasquez, who recorded 24 kills and 15 digs on her way to Most Valuable Player honors. The Sachems were led by Alana Hruska’s 13 kills and 12 from Katie Shea.

“I felt like we could have blocked a little bit better and we missed way too many serves,” RHAM coach Tim Guernsey said. “We missed 10 serves and that’s the most we missed all season.”

RHAM (21-2) got off to a strong start in the first set and led 8-4 early. Eventually though, the Panthers (18-3) got on track and the teams began trading points. The Sachems last led at 12-11, and Platt sealed the set by going on a 5-1 run. It was able to get an upper hand on RHAM by serving well and forcing the Sachems into difficult returns and mistakes. And when they needed a big play, they could always go to Vasquez.

In the second set, RHAM improved its play all around and led most of the way. It took complete control of the set by going on a 10-2 run. The Sachems did a stronger job of passing the ball and setting up powerful returns by Hruska and others, while also avoiding simple mistakes.

Unfortunately for RHAM, it wasn’t able to sustain momentum in the third set, in which it trailed wire to wire. It fell behind early and then allowed Platt to stage an 8-2 run, before mounting a too-late rally. Throughout the set, the aggressive Panthers were able to find open spots on the Sachems side, while RHAM hurt itself with multiple errors on serves.

“”I think one of our strengths is being able to defend the outside, but they have two strong outside [hitters],” Guernsey said. “You don’t see the back row attack a lot, which they do, and they have to kids who can jump-spike.”

“I think we could have played more with energy and as a team,” said sophomore Anna Barry, who had nine kills. “We didn’t do a great job of communicating as a group.”

RHAM struggled early in the fourth set and eventually trailed 9-14. It was ready to go down fighthing though, tying the score at 17 and then 22. The game would end on a bitter note, with a serving error and a subsequent mistake leading to a clinching kill by Vasquez.

“Vasquez attacks the ball very well off the net and makes it more difficult to block shots,” Guernsey said.

McKenzie Maneggia also had an outstanding game for RHAM, earning 34 assists. Jenixza Febles added 15 kills and nine digs for Platt.

Guernsey had plenty of praise for his players and feels the loss can be a great learning experience for them.

“You can’t say anything to fault with our kids. I thought they played hard. They never gave up,” he said. “We’re young and this is a great experience for them. Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to come back.”

“I’ll remember all the fun and good times we spent together this season,” Barry said. “This loss will definitely motivate us all next season.”

See more action photos from Ellington’s Class M state championship game here: https://thesportsdept.smugmug.com/Ellington-Girls-Volleyball/

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