South Windsor Swept by Newington in M Semifinals

By Danny Atkinson

GLASTONBURY-The South Windsor boys volleyball team lost to Newington in the Class M tournament championship game last season in five sets. On Monday night, the fifth-seeded Bobcats hoped to return the favor by defeating the top-seeded Indians in the semifinals at Glastonbury High and advance to the M championship game against Joel Barlow.

While South Windsor’s players did their best to put their opponents on their heels and force them into mistakes, they were mostly unsuccessful. Newington controlled the action for much of the night and went on to sweep the Bobcats (25-20, 25-16, 25-19), keeping them out of the finals after two consecutive appearances. South Windsor ends the season with a record of 14-8. Newington moves to 22-3.

Newington led a large majority of the game, with South Windsor rarely ahead or able to go on long runs. After the teams traded points for much of the first set the Indians pulled away at the end, and then went ahead 2-0 by leading for the entire middle set, going on a long run to take a comfortable advantage. The Bobcats raced out in front in the third set and appeared on their way to the win but Newington executed a huge rally, overpowering South Windsor one final time.

Newington was led by Leonel Caceres, who smacked 12 kills and earned 13 digs, and Teddy Fravel, who hit 8 kills and 4 blocks. For South Windsor, seniors Max Iacovelli and Colin Ryan hit 10 and 8 kills and senior Nate Grivers earned 14 digs.

“Our passing could have been better from the get-go,” Bobcats head coach Keith Scheckel said. “We couldn’t run our full offense, Newington got us out of it with their serves. I wish we could have passed better and gotten everyone involved, but it is what it was.”

Scheckel was also asked what his message was to the team after the game.

“Things didn’t go our way today, Newington is a good team. Sometimes things don’t go your way. You live and learn and try to get better tomorrow.”

South Windsor kept the score close against Newington for nearly the entire first set. Early on, both teams were highly aggressive and demonstrated their ability to return difficult shots and strength up front. Neither team went on a long run in the opening minutes, with the Indians taking a 10-8 lead. Iacovelli, Ryan and sophomores Michael Pandiscia and Akhil Rajesh each had kills during this stretch, with Grivers also playing well. After a Newington error made the score 13-11, the Indians earned three consecutive points and remained at least three ahead for the remainder of the set., ultimately winning 25-20. Caceres and Louis Egbuna led the way up front, each smashing multiple kills South Windsor was unable to reach. The Indians also did an excellent job passing and setting up quality shots. While the after mentioned Bobcats and others made some standout plays for points, the team’s passing was inconsistent and it hit poor returns as well as some ugly errors. South Windsor’s serving was particularly erratic, with multiple serves sailing over the court.

In the second set, Newington immediately put South Windsor on the defensive by taking an 8-2 lead, with Evan Metzger hitting an ace and Fravel and Egbuna kills. The Bobcats stayed focused and began to execute better, cutting into the deficit. The players did a strong job of getting to balls up front and setting up powerful returns, as well as hitting the ball to areas of the court where Indian players were initially absent, forcing multiple returns to land out of bounds. Midway through the set, South Windsor got to within five points and then three, with the score becoming 16-13.

The Bobcats were held in check from them on, however. Behind Daniel Cloutier (who finished with 29 assists) in the middle and Egbuna, who had multiple kills, NHS consistently reached South Windsor hits and serves. It scored three more consecutive points and ended up cruising to the 25-16 win. Throughout the 9-3 run that the Indians put together to win the set, the Bobcats could only set up a few quality returns with their passing. Their players were forced to react to quality serves and scramble after well-aimed hits.

“They didn’t let the ball hit the ground. They chased down everything,” Iacovelli said. “I think we were a little sloppy and didn’t take advantage of free balls. They’re a good team, they have tall kids in the middle. We also kept pulling our passes to the 10-foot line instead of the middle, which makes the offense harder to run. If we had passed a little better, it could have made a difference.”

The third set started out looking up for South Windsor. It quickly took the lead and built upon it, eventually going ahead 12-6. The Bobcats were both serving and passing well, setting up multiple kills by Ryan as well as ones from Iacovelli and senior Braden Goodale. They also attacked the open spaces on Newington’s side of the floor, leading to errant hits. After South Windsor took this lead, everything began to change.

The Indians began to cut into the Bobcats lead with a series of kills from Caceres and others as well as a Fravel block, going on a 5-1 run to make it 13-11. After South Windsor took a 15-12 advantage thanks to some quality passing, Newington tied the score and ultimately took the lead for good through a series of blocks at the net and more strong ball movement, with Cloutier, Caceres and Fravel leading the way. During the decisive NHS run, the Bobcat players found themselves consistently out of position when trying to return shots and unable to earn any kills, and also hit multiple serves out. Individual players were visibly flustered. Newington secured the semifinal win by ending the third set on a 13-4 run to win it 25-19.

Scheckel attributed Newington’s comeback in the third set largely due to South Windsor becoming overconfident and losing focus.

“I think we started to believe we had it in the bag a little too early. We started to get a little overconfident with ourselves, and Newington began charging back and we couldn’t recover. It felt like we were starting to come to play in the set, and when we got to around 15 (points) we looked at the finish line too early,” he said.

“They didn’t let the ball hit the ground. They got after everything, no matter where you put the ball,” Iacovelli said when asked about the set. “We didn’t capitalize on the free balls (as well).”

While 2018 came to a disappointing end, it was another standout season for South Windsor’s excellent boys’ volleyball program. Iacovelli and Ryan each said they will remember this season fondly, with the two seniors acknowledging how rewarding it was to play for the Bobcats.

“We’re somewhat satisfied with this season,” Iacovelli said. “I don’t think many people thought we could make it this far, but we still wanted to go farther. Having it end in the semis is a little bittersweet.

“This has been a great four years for me in general. I’ve been to two state finals and a semifinal game in my three varsity years and I’ll never forget that. Most kids don’t even see one, and I’m really grateful to have done so.”

“We’re a tight group, and the team is almost like a second family to me,” said Ryan, who only joined the volleyball program this season. “Coach and my teammates are great, and it’s a big regret of mine that I didn’t play for the last four years. All the seniors, we really had a great time out there.”

 

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