RHAM Sweeps Woodstock to Repeat as Class L Champions

EAST HAVEN-The top-seeded RHAM volleyball team entered Saturday’s Class L championship game against No. 7 Woodstock Academy as the favorites. It had not dropped a set all season, and had quality performances in their previous tournament games. The Sachems faced a high set of expectations from fans and observers, and if they had struggled to defeat the Centaurs (or lost, of course), it could have been disappointing. As always, RHAM answered the challenge with elite play.

The Sachems got a handful from a feisty Woodstock squad (24-4), but successfully used their talent, teamwork and height advantage to earn yet another sweep (25-15, 25-20, 25-17) and the 2017 Class L Championship at East Haven High. RHAM, which will be the No. 1 team in the final state coaches poll, repeated as champions after defeating Farmington last season.

“I don’t know if people think this is easy, but it’s not an easy task to get here,” RHAM head coach Tim Guernsey said. “They grind it out every day. They work hard. They are pushed to their limit. This never gets old. And they deserve all the credit. Everything they get they deserve.”

Guernsey discussed what it is like for the team to play the championship and additional high-profile games when it is always expected to win, saying it is something they try not to focus upon.

“I don’t think it’s something we talk about.  I think the girls are focused on one point at a time, doing the little things we need to do. I knew when we needed a big play and a big moment, those girls were able to rise up and make a play.”

Senior middle hitter Anna Berry was named the championship game Most Valuable Player. Berry played the match with her left hand bandaged after injuring it in the quarterfinals. She hit 23 kills.

It definitely feels good to win the championship. I really like having this,” Berry said, pointing to the medal each player was given. “It’s great as a team, it helps us come together more. We’re very excited for one another.”

In addition to Berry, senior middle and outside hitter Alana Hruska smacked 18 kills, senior setter Allie Welch earned 38 assists and 8 digs, and senior outside hitter Kate Grabowski led in digs with 15.

RHAM started the first set off strong, jumping out to a 12-5 lead. The Sachems, led by Berry and fellow seniors Hruska and Welch, did a quality job of passing the ball and setting up powerful shots, recording multiple kills. They also served well and covered the middle of the floor efficiently. Woodstock picked up its play in the middle of the set, improving its passing and setting up a couple of powerful shots RHAM was unable to successfully return. The Centaurs got to within five points at 13-8 and then seven at 20-13. However, a series of kills by Berry and others as well as  shots which forced poor passingand errors others allowed the team to stay in control, with the Sachems going on to win the set by 10.

Guernsey described some of the strengths displayed by his players in the set.

“I thought Anna and Alana were great out of the middle and Allie at putting the ball up. When we needed to make the pass, we made the pass. Even in game two when it got tight, we just kept plugging away.”

In the second set, Woodstock gave the Sachems everything they could handle, with the score frequently tied or the Centaurs ahead multiple times. They got off to a very early lead, with RHAM eventually grabbing it back and taking a lead of 12-10. During these opening few minutes, Woodstock was passing and serving more efficiently and setting up shots the Sachems sometimes struggled to return, with RHAM also committing a few errors. After it obtained a kill and then block from Grabowski to go up 15-13, Woodstock rallied to tie the set at 16 and went on to go up by one.

Just when it looked like Woodstock could win the set, the Sachems kicked their play into high gear. Their passing and accuracy improved, especially up front. Led by Berry, who smacked five kills, RHAM regained the lead at 20-19 and went on a set-ending 6-1 run.

Barry discussed how the players were able to handle the Centaurs quality play and go on runs, especially in the second set.

“We trusted each other, we trusted our passers to make a good pass and Allie to put up a good set, and then us hitters just had to put it down. We were able to come together and have great plays.”

“Coach was telling us how to fix things when they went on runs, and once he told us that we knew where to go from there,” Hruska said.

The Sachems played very well in the first half of the third set, taking a 15-8 lead. An impressive stretch of play by Woodstock lowered the deficit to four, but RHAM’s efficient play squashed any hopes of a comeback and gave it a championship sweep.

Paula Hernandez was outstanding for Woodstock, finishing with 15 kills, six service points, and three assists and aces.

Barry reflected on how she felt to win MVP.

“It definitely was an honor, I wasn’t expecting it. I think I played my best at the end of the second set and helped our team push through. My teammates trusted me enough to do it for them.”

The Sachems have made 10 championship games in the past 11 years, winning for Class M and now to L titles. Guernsey gave his perspective on what made the 2017 squad special.

“They’re an extremely tight-knit group and work extremely, extremely hard. It’s a great group of humble kids who feed off each other and enjoy playing together, and that makes it special as a coach,” he said. “I think we’re big, athletic and tough to defend.”

“Our camaraderie together made us special,” Berry said. “We spend every second of every day together as much as we can, and we use it to our advantage.”

Hruska and Berry each reflected on ending their careers with a championship.

“I’m definitely going to miss a lot about playing here,” Hruska said. “I’ll play in college, but it won’t be the same. Going out on top is the best way to end it, though.”

“It’s good to end our career like this, it doesn’t feel unfinished. I feel like I left here putting it all out there.”

      

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