RHAM Beats Rival Farmington in Four Sets to Win Class L Title

By Danny Atkinson 

EAST HAVEN-The RHAM girls volleyball team entered the Class L championship game Saturday night against Farmington at East Haven High hoping the third time would be the charm. The Sachems had lost in the previous two championship games to Farmington and Platt, and were facing the Indians for the third time in 2016 after falling to them in the regular season and beating their rivals in the CCC Tournament championship two weeks beforehand. RHAM had demonstrated championship talent in the past, but it was necessary for them to demonstrate the mentality of a champion on the biggest stage as well. Throughout Saturday’s four-set win, RHAM showed great toughness, execution and poise when it mattered most.

RHAM defeated Farmington High 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-18, 25-23) to win its first Class L title since 2013 and sixth since 2007. The Sachems led throughout most of the match and consistently went on crucial runs, including ones in the first and third sets that helped them take complete control of play. RHAM ends 2016 25-1, while Farmington finishes 24-2.

Junior outside hitter Alana Hruska was named the most valuable player of the title match. She finished with a match-high 28 kills and five blocks.

“I love winning after falling in the last two years,” RHAM head coach Tim Guernsey said. “I’m at a loss for words right now. I love this environment, it’s the best time of the year. Winning the title is something the kids will always remember. They deserve everything.”   

“We always had our energy up and played together as a team tonight,” Hruska said. “We kept working hard and pushing against them.”

The first set established the fast-paced and back-and-forth style the match would follow. RHAM jumped out to an early 10-6 lead behind Hruska and middle hitter Anna Barry, who finished with 19 kills, and Farmington quickly roared back behind star outside hitter Mary Schoennher (10 kills), tying the set at 15 and then 17. As soon as the Indians did, Barry briefly proceeded to take over. The junior smashed three consecutive kills against overmatched Farmington players to put the Sachems up 20-17 and would eventually close out the set with a winning block.

Barry and RHAM executed this clinching run in large part to the ability of multiple players to return challenging shots and efficiently set up kill opportunities.  Four players (OH Kate Grabowski, libero Lauren Delissio, OH Sydney Masna and defensive setter Claire Russo) dove for double-digit digs, while setter Allie Welch (53 assists) and middle hitter Katie Shea smoothly gave Hruska, Barry and others a chance to work their magic.    

“We really hit the ball well tonight,” Barry said. “Everyone made their shots and avoided mistakes and we were able to move the ball around and find points.”

After a tough loss in the first set, Farmington returned the favor and handed RHAM an even more excruciating second set defeat. The Sachems certainly started the set on the right foot, riding great play from Hruska to take leads of 9-4 and then 15-11. The Indians continued to chip away however, forcing RHAM into costly mistakes with their strong serves and ball placement on returns and receiving impressive kills from Schoennher and others. Behind her and the gifted middle hitter duo of Erica Raus and Caroline Cullen (who each had 13 kills), Farmington rallied to tie the set at 21 and then scored the final two points to win and tie the match at one.

Despite surrendering the lead and losing the set, RHAM did not show any signs of fluster. In the break before the third set, Guernsey made sure to give his players a powerful message to consider.

“I told them at the end of the match no matter what, we don’t want to talk about how we had leads and they came back. We want to talk about having no regrets and being aggressive and going at people,” he said. 

“After the second, we came together as a team and talked and just figured out what we needed to do to win,” Hruska said.

The third set again saw both teams unable to establish an edge in the first few minutes, as it was tied six times. RHAM continued to fight hard and execute well, eventually resulting in an 8-1 run to take a 2-1 match lead. Hruska again led the way in the final stretch, recording three consecutive kills from the front row to put the Sachems up 22-17 and clinching the 25-18 triumph with a block. Her teammates continued to do an excellent job of moving the ball around and setting up powerful returns and visibly had Indian players out of synch.

“During the runs we had in our winning sets, we kept pushing and put the ball down and passed it well like we knew was necessary,” Hruska said. “We were continuously able to move around the net so that we got a good look at the Farmington team.”

“The runs occurred because we worked together and created the best shots for points,” Barry said. “We also played great defense.”

Farmington showed that it would not go down without a fight in the fourth set, coming back every time the Sachems went on a run. After trailing 5-1 early, the Indians put together a stretch of strong play to take a 12-11 advantage. RHAM regrouped and earned five consecutive points to go up 16-12, but the Indians came back to tie the set at 19 and then took a two-point lead with the help a beautiful ace from Cullen. Hruska tied the score at 22 on a block and Delissio followed with a service point to give RHAM its decisive lead. Fittingly, the match was ended and the championship secured on another block by Hruska.   

Guernsey praised many players for their performances against Farmington.

“Allie (Welch) was great at setting up points. Alana and Barry both dominated the middle and Kate (Grabowski) kept the ball in play on the outsides. Katie Shea came up with some big rips. You’re not winning the Class L Tournament unless you have a good team,” he said.

Delissio led RHAM in digs with 23 and Grabowski was second with 18. Setter Ali Troup earned 37 assists and libero Danielle Gan hit 26 digs for Farmington.

 When asked what they would remember the most about the season and RHAM’s team, Guernsey, Hruska and Barry each provided similar and rich answers.   

“Their work ethic was outstanding,” Guernsey said. “They are great kids who bought into the team and wanted to win for one another.”

“We always worked hard and together as a family, and that’s how we acted on the court,” Hruska stated.

“Everyone’s effort was special. We gave it all and always supported and helped each other,” Barry said.

 

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