PLAINVILLE - John Elway, Peyton Manning, Ray Bourque and the seniors of the Newington boys volleyball team.
The Indians’ 12th graders joined those three sports legends - and others - that left their respective sports with a championship on Thursday, when they helped Newington mount an incredible comeback to take down South Windsor in the Class M final.
Four of the eight seniors have been together for four years and the others that have joined along the way have become part of the cohesive group of upperclassmen.
“They’re brothers to me,” Vihn Dau said about his fellow seniors. “I’ve played with them all four years and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other people.”
That feeling of family is something that is not exclusive to just the seniors. The Indians have a tightly-knit team overall and that has been part of this season’s success and that of their recent history.
“They’re my second family,” senior Kevin Bilbraut said. “That’s something that we’ve always stressed. We break huddles saying family, we have team bonding, we have pasta parties, we do it all, the whole nine yards. So really bonding and leaning on each other when another one is down is something that we’ve really had success doing.”
The quartet of four-year players - Dau, Bilbraut, Andres Ithier-Vicenty and Zach Harmon - already had a championship to their names, having been on the 2015 title team, but this one means much more to all of them.
“It feels amazing because the other time, we just kind of on the bench and cheering,” Dau said, “but this time, we’re right there. It was our ring this time.”
This year’s seniors spent the 2015 season behind a strong group of upperclassmen and many of those players showed up to watch their former teammates compete on Thursday.
“It felt amazing. Even their support was really good,” Bilbraut said. “I just loved how they took the time to come and watch us play and just watching us earning it. It felt so much better and I really just wanted to prove to them that we could do it ourselves.”
Those graduates had a big influence on this year’s seniors and the team’s success this season can be traced directly back to their talent in 2015.
“I remember sophomore year, we were on the bench watching the original crew smacking balls down [and] just doing everything,” Bilbraut said. “I really took that as a chance to really get better because I knew in the future, I wasn’t going to have someone that could really hit the ball down that hard.
“So freshman and sophomore year, [I was] always practicing with them and getting as many digs as I could, just doing everything I could just to use them as a way to get myself better, and now that I’ve earned it, it feels so much better.”
In addition to the four-year players, the less-experienced seniors also played important roles in the championship run and Thursday’s title clincher.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Newington coach Curt Burns said about his seniors. “We get guys in volleyball that will often start as freshmen. Some will come in as sophomores.
“Nate Alleyne, who had a wonderful match [Thursday], he’s a first-year senior. He’s a three-sport athlete, [with] football and basketball, and gives volleyball a try and wants to have fun his last two months of his senior year [and] winds up walking out with a state championship. He’s a guy who’s an athlete and we trained him how to play volleyball and wow, look what we got.”
Hard work like what Bilbraut explained is also a theme that runs through a lot of what Burns and the Indians preach, and a large reason why the seniors were able to win their final high school game.
“It’s just so great because we all tried so hard,” Harmon said. “Every one of us practiced every single day. We tried our butts off and we got the win. We work so hard every day in school and out of school. We just work our butts off and it feels great.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @K_baum30