SHELTON – After dropping the first set 25-16 to No. 2 Cheshire and falling behind early in the second set, it was clear the Newington boys volleyball team needed to return to the roots that put the program on the cusp of a third straight Class M state championship.
The Indians needed to have fun again.
“In the beginning, everyone was tense,” senior Louis Egbuna said. “We told each other to just have fun, and as you can see, we played a lot better just by being loose.”
The loose Newington group used an extended timeout as the result of an illegal rotation by the Rams to remind itself to enjoy the moment that had become an annual occurrence, and once the Indians remembered what brought them back to the title game, they settled in and finished off Cheshire in four sets (16-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-22) to secure the program’s first-ever three-peat.
“We closed it out and got the win, and now we’ve got three,” Egbuna said, holding up three fingers with a medal dangling from his neck.
The Rams thought they had an early 2-0 lead in the second set, but an illegal rotation switched the score to 1-1 and gave service back to the Indians, who immediately took advantage after their brief intervention, taking a 3-1 lead after a Teddy Fravel kill. Leading 6-3, Jacob Baclawski faked a heavy kill attempt and finessed a hit over Cheshire’s front line to give Newington a 7-3 edge and prompt a timeout from Rams head coach Sue Bavone.
The Indians maintained their four-point lead through 12-8, then grabbed a five-point edge after a pair of impressive blocks by Leonel Caceres and Fravel. The lead swelled to seven later in the set when Razik Amadou threw down a kill to make it 20-13, and an Egbuna kill sealed a 25-16 win to tie the match.
“I can’t say I ever doubted us,” Fravel said after losing the first set and falling behind early before the stoppage. “I just couldn’t imagine us losing this game.”
Newington maintained momentum into the third set and grabbed a 6-2 lead, led by two untouchable kills from Fravel, who finished with a team-high 17. A service ace from Caceres later extended the lead to 12-6 and forced a timeout from Cheshire head coach Sue Bavone, who had watched her team’s confidence shift drastically to the opposing bench. The timeout wasn’t enough to slow down the Indians, who grabbed a 20-13 lead before Cheshire cut it to 22-18, but that is as close as they would get.
Once again, the Indians jumped out to an early lead in the fourth set, getting ahead 4-1 on a Caceres block. The Rams tried to fight back, but three service errors gave Newington a 10-6 lead.
Two straight unforced errors by the Indians cut their lead to 13-11, and a misfire on a kill attempt by Fravel later trimmed the lead to 19-16. Two straight kills then pulled the Rams within one, forcing a timeout from Newington head coach Curt Burns.
Out of the timeout, Fravel stuffed a kill attempt from Colby Hayes, but Cheshire grabbed service right back and tied the set with a crosscourt kill from Aidan Godfrey. Newington answered back with a point, and a Baclawski kill provided some crucial breathing room in the form of a 23-21 lead.
Another kill by Hayes cut it back to one, but the Indians recorded the next two, including a kill by Amadou to seal the win and the program’s stake as a dynasty.
“I’m so proud of Razik for finishing off the game,” Fravel said of his teammate, who saw extended time on the court after all-conference middle hitter Mason Romano was lost with an ankle injury. “Players like that closing it out at the end of the game is what matters.”
The comeback win marked the third time this season that Newington downed Cheshire 3-1, and also sealed the program’s remarkable sixth state title in eight years, as the word ‘dynasty’ began to reverberate throughout the gym at Shelton High School.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Burns said of the program’s run of dominance. “The bus rides home after wins are a lot more fun than the ones after losses.”
For Burns and the Indians, the bus rides home after the final match of the season have been loads of fun over the past three seasons.