NEW BRITAIN - The New Britain girls volleyball team has increased its win total every season over the past three years, but that trend will be a difficult one to maintain this fall.
The Hurricanes face a much different schedule in the upcoming season, one with a number of tough tests against top programs in central Connecticut. New Britain, however, will gladly sacrifice a couple regular season matches to help accomplish its overall goal.
After two straight losses in the first round of the Class LL state tournament, the Hurricanes want redemption in the form of a deep run, and while the path through their 2019 schedule is turbulent, they believe it will be the best way to that ultimate goal.
“Having been there now, these girls are a little hungrier to get past that first game,” head coach Michelle Abraham said. “Nobody wants to reach the tournament and get beat, and suddenly it's over. I definitely feel that playing stronger teams will prepare us for the state tournament and the [CCC] tournament.”
Among those stronger teams are Southington, Bristol Eastern and RHAM, all of which reached the semifinals in their respective state tournaments (Southington in LL, Bristol Eastern and RHAM in L). Also included this year are Bristol Central and Tolland, two more teams that won at least one match in the Class L state tournament.
“We open up with RHAM, which will challenge us on day one,” Abraham explained. “We have a tough schedule. Because of the fact that we've been successful the last two years, we have schools that have consistently been in the state tournament and went pretty far.”
The challenging road ahead will make it tougher for New Britain during the regular season, but the team’s greater desire is to learn and adapt what it takes to reach the final rounds of the state tournament. This season, it will be face-to-face with at least five opponents who have done just that, and can hopefully offer the Hurricanes an up-close look at what a state championship contender looks like in action.
New Britain has shown the potential of a state final contender in recent years, going a combined 28-12 the past two seasons. But the Hurricanes have come up empty in state tournament play, entering the 2018 tournament as the No. 9 seed before losing 3-1 to No. 24 Fairfield Warde in the opening round, after falling in the first match of the 2017 tournament to No. 20 Conard. New Britain was the higher seed in both matches, but the experienced Abraham knows the state tournament effectively wipes out past accomplishments, unless that list of accomplishments includes recent contests against teams also fighting for the championship, which the Hurricanes will have this season.
“It will definitely prepare us for the more challenging schools,” Abraham said. “Once it comes to the tournament, everyone is there for a reason. Playing the Southingtons and RHAMs and those kinds of schools will definitely be an eye-opener.”
Experience matters in postseason play, and despite the team’s early exits in recent years, it will have plenty of veterans that have learned from those past losses, including a trio of seniors in Raven-Symone Jarrett, Anyerina Lugo and Nataly Hernandez, all of whom earned all-conference honors last season.
“We feel really good,” Abraham said of her group this season. “We have some veteran players coming back…We also have two setters with varsity experience so we have a really good nucleus.”
Abraham and the Hurricanes will lean heavily on Jarrett, a two-time second team All-State selection, who has experience winning at the state level as a track athlete in the spring, when she became the first competitor in New Britain girls track history to win the CIAC heptathlon. Jarrett hopes her triumphs on the track will translate to the hardwood this season, where she’s experienced plenty of individual success but wants to see the team make a similar leap.
“The girl is just amazing in every sport she plays,” Abraham said. “She hasn't missed a practice for me in three years, and that helps. You can't learn if you're not present. She's a good role model and demonstrator of the skills that are natural to her. She's a great teammate. She's always willing to put her game aside to help someone else.”
The Hurricanes as a whole will be present and learning as the regular season goes along, taking on the types of opponents they hope to see come November, when the state tournament begins. Armed with a group of established upperclassmen, a standout individual star and two years of motivational fuel, Abraham is confident she has the group that will help erase the past two postseasons of frustration and take the next step as a program.
“The kids have been coming and they've been great,” Abraham said. “They've been together for a while. We don't really have any new kids that have to try and fit in and figure out the system. If they continue what they've been doing and stay positive, we'll have a good season. I'm looking forward to it.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com