Every team needs players it can rely on to perform at a different level when the games begin to matter more, meaning playoff time. Newington’s Andres Ithier-Vicenty and Southington’s Kara Zazzaro proved to be just that in both the regular season and tournament time.
The Newington boys volleyball team recently took home its third Class M state title in four years and Ithier-Vicenty was a big reason for that.
On Tuesday of last week, the Indians took down postseason-rival Joel Barlow in four sets to reach the state title game with plenty of help from Ithier-Vicenty. The senior outside hitter piled up 22 kills and finished with a hitting percentage of .381, which even he was impressed with after the match.
“Wow. That’s amazing,” he said with a big smile. “I haven’t hit that in a while.”
The finals appearance was not the first in Ithier-Vicenty’s career but it meant the most because of the impact he had on the team’s success this season.
“[I’m at] a loss for words,” he said about reaching the championship game. “That last set [against Joel Barlow], when I looked at the score, I was just like, ‘We’re two points away and this is going to be my first time ever going here [that] I’m going to work for this ring.’ It’s amazing.”
Newington then faced a daunting uphill battle in the final against South Windsor, falling behind two set to none. But the Indians battled back to win three straight sets to claim the championship.
“We stayed really focused,” Ithier-Vicenty said. “We obviously didn’t hit 100 percent but we stayed focused and stayed strong.”
Ithier-Vicenty put together an outstanding encore to his semifinal performance in the final, recording 25 kills at a .306 percentage. He also added five digs, one ace and one block assist. Combined between the final and semifinal, he registered 47 kills and hit a .341 percentage.
“He’s such a gifted athlete,” Newington coach Curt Burns said. “If you’re looking for what a volleyball player should look like, he’s what it would look like: athletic, can jump, he’s quick [and] a whip of an arm. All of the things you like in the sport, he’s got it. [In the semifinal and final], he came through. Usually good athletes come through in the big situations and that’s what he did.”
The Southington softball once again reached the Class LL title game. Although the Blue Knights ultimately fell to Trumbull 4-3 in the end, Zazzaro was a big reason for the team getting that far.
It was supposed to be a down year for the Blue Knights, one in which many people did not expect them to be as competitive as they has previously been due to the losses sustained from last season’s roster. But whenever Southington needed a big performance, the junior was the one to step up and control the game from the pitching circle.
Against rival and defending-champion Cheshire in the semifinals, Zazzaro tossed seven strong innings, allowing just two runs and most importantly delivered some big pitches when she needed to.
“I’ve said this all year but she gets stronger as the game goes along,” Blue Knights head coach Davina Hernandez said. “She has this poker face on the mound and nothing gets to her. She made some big pitches to get out of trouble.”
And the pitcher, well she relishes the change to show what she can do on the big stages.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Zazzaro said. “These are my favorite games to pitch in and the energy was so good from both sides all game so it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
It was just a season ago when Zazzaro was the team’s closer, a year later and she has been one of the state’s most dominant pitchers. Against E.O. Smith in the quarterfinal round, Zazzaro tossed a three-hit shutout and perhaps more impressively, she struck out 10 and walked none.
The title game was a tough loss for the Southington players, but Hernandez knows her team should bounce back just fine. After all, the Blue Knights have some important players returning to the fold.
“We are going to bounce back from this,” Hernandez said. “We are losing some really important seniors, but we also have a lot of young players coming back; and we have Kara coming back, which is nice.”
Indeed it is, although opponents might have different thoughts.