NEW BRITAIN - The Innovation girls volleyball team, formerly known as Med-Ed Prep, had a real chance to earn its first ever CRAL Championship in girls volleyball.
It came down to the fifth set where HMTCA jumped out to a quick 7-1 lead, but the Ravens came roaring back. HMTCA opened up another six-point lead when it was 13-7, but once again Innovation came back to make the score 14-13.
Freshman Kenia Hernandez went back to serve with a chance to tie it up but her serve went wide to give HMTCA the set points and a 3-2 win (25-21, 9-25, 22-25, 25-17, 15-13) and its third consecutive CRAL Championship.
“I was extremely proud of how the girls fought,” Innovation head coach Matt Lance said. “In that last set we went down big a couple of different times but my girls did not give up and we had a really good chance to win, it just didn’t happen.”
The Phoenix will go down as the 2016 CRAL tournament champions, but Innovation was still the top seed in the tournament and won the regular season crown.
“Winning the conference in the regular season is much harder than winning the tournament,” Lance told his team after the match. “In a tournament it’s about who is better on that day, but it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this season.”
Innovation put itself in a hole early on as HMTCA jumped out to a quick lead in the first set and would go on to win the opening game 25-21. The second set was all Innovation though as it allowed the Phoenix to score just nine points. The Ravens went on to win the third set as well and seemed to have all the momentum to close out the match in the fourth set but they made too many errors.
HMTCA took the fourth set by a decent margin and that paved the way for the hectic fifth set. Innovation showed flashes of why it was the top seed in the tournament but those flashes were too few and far between.
“I thought we got a little bit too complacent after the third set,” senior captain Pieta Okonya said. “We had beaten HMTCA earlier in the year and after we went up on them I think we just felt that we were going to cruise to another win. By the time we turned it back on it was too late.”
Aside from complacency, the Ravens also had trouble with their serving and communication in this match. There were several times where Innovation let a ball hit the floor while two or three girls were standing there expecting the other to get it.
Some of the standout players in the match were Bailee Nardi, who led the team with nine kills, Aliyah Merced, who led the team with 12 digs and Imani Rosado who had six aces.
“We are not going to let one game define our season,” Lance said. “The girls really wanted to win this match there is no doubt about that but there are some days in sports where you just don’t play well enough to win.”
This loss does not mark the end of Innovation’s season as it will be competing in next week’s Class S state tournament. The opponent for the Ravens’ first round game is to be determined but that game will take place on Monday.