NEW BRITAIN - As Giovanny Hernandez gathered himself to prepare for his serve, he couldnâ€™t help but break out in a smile.
Hernandez, along with his New Britain boys volleyball teammates and the Hurricanesâ€™ home crowd, knew what was coming next. New Britain held a 2-0 lead in the match against Bulkeley and a 24-16 lead in the set. Just one point stood in the way of the Hurricanesâ€™ first win in program history.
â€śI was very excited, and nervous,â€ť Hernandez said. â€śI wanted this. I wanted to win.â€ť
With a smile from ear-to-ear, Hernandez sent over a successful serve that never made it back over the net, as a Bulldogs error clinched the 3-0 win for the Hurricanes (1-13) on Monday afternoon, one that immediately took its place in school history.
â€śIt was amazing,â€ť junior Jerry Chungong said. â€śWe had been waiting for this the entire season.â€ť
New Britainâ€™s win avenged the teamâ€™s loss to Bulkeley (1-10) earlier in the season, this time winning in convincing fashion, save for a 10-0 Bulldogs run in the second set that put the Hurricanes behind late. But the young team collected itself to take back control and make sure its quest for history wouldnâ€™t be denied.
â€śWe started to talk more, and started to use each other,â€ť Hernandez said.
New Britain ran out to a big lead in the first set behind Jose Olmeda, who threw down his fourth kill of the set and later added a service ace to draw a timeout from the Bulldogs, who suddenly faced a 17-7 deficit. Angel Gonzalez-Veras closed out the game with a vicious kill, giving the Hurricanes a 25-17 set win and their first match lead of the season.
Suddenly riding a wave of momentum, New Britain stormed into the second set and jumped out to a 6-0 lead behind three kills from Bryan Rodriguez. When Bulkeley finally got on the board, Rodriguez took a point right back with another kill to keep the Hurricanes ahead by six.
The Bulldogs took a timeout to try and settle down, but New Britain only ramped up the pressure, using a kill from Olmeda and three unforced errors by Bulkeley to take a commanding 12-2 lead, matching its largest advantage from the first set.
The Bulldogs cut back on the mistakes and responded with a 6-1 run to cut the lead to five, prompting head coach Michelle Abraham to call a timeout and get the Hurricanes back on track. The timeout proved temporarily beneficial, as New Britain broke the huddle and immediately pushed its lead back to nine before being stunned by the Bulkeley rally that appeared out of nowhere.
The Bulldogs, who were visibly outmatched through the first set and most of the second, racked up 10 straight points to take a 20-19 lead as the Hurricanesâ€™ youth began to show in the form of critical unforced errors.
â€śWe couldnâ€™t get the ball up front,â€ť Abraham said. â€śWe were struggling with our passes, but they hung in there.â€ť
With the score knotted at 22, Bulkeley denied a quality kill attempt by Olmeda and earned a crucial point on a kill by Rohan Daley to once again take a one-point lead. But Olmeda finished what he started the previous volley to tie the set at 23. An error by the Bulldogs and a kill by Randy Slart finished the set off for New Britain, who fought off a potentially devastating collapse to put itself on the brink of the programâ€™s first-ever win.
â€śOur team worked together and supported each other,â€ť Chungong said. â€śWe just gave each other the opportunity to play better.â€ť
Hunting for a sweep, the Hurricanes opened up the third set with a 13-4 lead behind a pair of kills and a block by Rodriguez, while the serving of Hernandez earned New Britain six straight points. When Bulkeley finally ended Hernandezâ€™s run, a service error immediately gave the serve back to the Hurricanes, who were looking to avoid another near-collapse late in the set.
Kills by Rodriguez and Joshua Olivo lifted New Britain to a 20-11 lead, but once again, the Bulldogs fought back, going on a 5-1 run to trim the deficit to five. But the Hurricanes regained the serve and Hernandez finished off the historic win by forcing an error on Bulkeleyâ€™s end to ignite a celebration two months in the making.
â€śI donâ€™t even know what to think right now,â€ť Chungong said after his teammates mobbed each other on the court after the final point was recorded. â€śThis is the just the happiest day all season.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org