WATERBURY - “You got to believe!”
“Don’t be satisfied!”
The Newington boys volleyball fans at Tuesday evening’s Class M state tournament semifinal match against Joel Barlow were loud enough that the players on the court were able to hear them and abide by their chants, digging deep to defeat the Falcons 3-1 (28-26, 11-25, 25-22, 25-18) to advance to the finals.
“It feels great,” Newington coach Curt Burns said. “Barlow’s a great, great program. We were ready for a battle [and] they surely gave us one but we’re happy to move on to the finals.”
The fourth set went back and forth through the first minutes, with the two teams tying at two, three and eight points. But then, the Indians broke off four straight points to pull out to a 12-8 lead. Three points later, Newington got another pair and forced Joel Barlow to take a timeout.
The two teams traded blows and with the score at 19-14, Newington rattled off three consecutive points to grab an eight-point lead.
But the Falcons did not go away, going on a 3-0 run to pull to within five. After the Indians won two points to get within one final point of reaching the finals, the Falcons delayed the celebration by winning one volley. But Newington would not be denied and the players in blue and gold broke into cheers as a partial block by two Joel Barlow players fell to the floor.
“It feels great,” Newington’s Andres Ithier-Vicenty said. “This feels amazing just because this is the same exact team that beat us last year and I was on that team last year and it hurt. It hurt because we made it so far and were so close but this just feels good because we got our revenge.”
The Indians came out ready to battle in the first set and that is exactly what they had to do. Much like the fourth set eventually was, the opening frame featured the Indians and Falcons going back and forth, putting together small runs and trying to get the upper hand. Newington won the first two points of the match and five of the first six before Joel Barlow came back with three straight.
The two teams were evenly matched and tied at 12, 14, 16, 25 and 26 points in the first set. With the score knotted at 26 apiece, Newington’s Vinh Dau spiked one down the left-side line and in to take a one-point lead and one point later, Zach Harmon took a set and smashed it down the middle to clinch the first-set victory for the Indians.
The second set took all the momentum away from Newington and put it firmly on Joel Barlow’s half of the court. After the Indians and Falcons traded points up until 7-7, the Falcons earned 12 straight points to take a commanding 19-7 lead. Newington attempted to come back but it could not make up enough ground to even get close and Joel Barlow tied up the match score.
“Their libero, who’s very good, got on a great serving run and we just couldn’t break him,” Burns said. “Once it got to 19-7, I thought I’d give my starters a rest. I got some other guys on the court [and] gave them a little playing time. I also rested my starters know that it was going to go four [sets] anyway and it seemed to work out.”
But the Indians did not let the lopsided second set derail them. To get the team going early, Harmon made an outstanding hustle play on the first point of the third set, which consisted of making a leaping spike, falling and sliding out of bounds and rushing back onto the court to make a block.
The two teams split the first six points of the set before the Falcons took a 6-3 lead and then expanded it to 8-4. But following a timeout, Newington strung three points together and eventually tied the game at 10-10. Joel Barlow then went on a three-point run but Newington battled back again to tie the game at 15-15 and again at 16-16.
The Indians then took an 18-16 lead and never trailed again in the set. Newington was up 23-18 when the Falcons scored two straight and caused Burns to take a timeout but the Indians were able to close it out and carry the momentum to the victory.
“Volleyball is a game of momentum,” Burns said about what he told his team after the second set. “They had the momentum swing when they got it back to even. It’s a best two out of three now, knowing that we’re going to go at least two more, and let’s refocus ourselves and get going again.”
Tuesday’s match was the fourth consecutive season that the Indians and Falcons have met in the state tournament and Newington’s berth in the final is the team’s fifth in seven seasons. The final will be played on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Plainville High School and the Indians will be facing South Windsor.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @K_baum30