WATERBURY - Itâ€™s not often two teams that only meet once a year by chance can develop such a big rivalry, but the boys volleyball teams from Newington and Joel Barlow have been able to do just that over the past six postseasons.
The Indians and Falcons renewed their rivalry on Tuesday night in the Class M tournament semifinals, with Newington earning the win and punching their ticket to the finals tonight.
â€śBarlowâ€™s a great program,â€ť Indians coach Curt Burns said. â€śSince 2012, weâ€™ve played them five times in the state tournament, including last year where they beat us in the semis. We beat them in the finals in â€™15 so weâ€™ve had a great rivalry with them. We know how good they are. They kind of know us and itâ€™s fun.â€ť
Tuesdayâ€™s meeting was the fifth time in six seasons that Newington and Joel Barlow have collided in the state tournament and the Indians, including the most recent win, have compiled a 4-1 record against the Falcons. Joel Barlowâ€™s only win came in last yearâ€™s tournament, when it ended the Indiansâ€™ quest for a third consecutive title by downing them in the semifinals.
Previous to that, Newington won the Class M crown in 2015 with a 3-1 win over the Falcons in the final and the Indians beat Joel Barlow in the 2014 semifinals and the 2012 quarterfinals. The only time in the last six seasons that the two teams did not meet was in 2013, when Newington played in Class L and Joel Barlow stayed in Class M.
The consistency at which the two teams meet in the postseason has been enough to sustain a rivalry despite the fact the Indians and Falcons have not played each other in the regular season over the same span.
â€śTheyâ€™re in the Southwest Conference [and weâ€™re] in the CCC,â€ť Burns said. â€śI fill most of my schedule up with northern teams so we donâ€™t really see them much. But we know in the state tournament, theyâ€™re going to be there.â€ť
Because they only see each other once a season, scouting is difficult when it comes time to get ready for the nearly-yearly meeting but the two teams enjoy the challenge each other face.
â€śItâ€™s scary because we never see them until the state tournament. But itâ€™s always fun,â€ť Newingtonâ€™s Andres Ithier-Vicenty said. â€śWe have a good time. They have amazing players. We have good players on our team, they have good players on their team and we both play hard.â€ť
This season, though, the Indians got an added advantage when they were able to watch Joel Barlowâ€™s three-set quarterfinal win over Masuk last week, which could have given them the edge they needed to pull out the win on Tuesday.
â€śObviously theyâ€™re the No. 1 seed [this year] so we knew they were good,â€ť Burns said. â€śWe got a chance to get a look at them last Friday, when we had our match a day earlier. So that helped a little bit, too. We got to see them, which sometimes you donâ€™t see those teams from downstate.
â€śTheyâ€™re just a great program. With everything they do, we know we need to be ready for them.â€ť
Now, the Indians turn their focus to South Windsor, the team they will face tonight in the Class M state tournament championship game. South Windsor comes in with a 13-8 record and is the No. 7 seed in the tourney. Newington is 15-7 and the four-seed.
South Windsor upset No. 2 seed Rockville and No. 6 Farmington to reach the title game, both matches going five sets.
Newington beat No. 5 seed Lewis Mills in five sets before knocking out Joel Barlow to set up the match with South Windsor.
The Class M final takes place tonight at 6 p.m. at Plainville High School.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @K_baum30