SOUTHINGTON - It has been six years since the Southington girls volleyball team reached the Class LL state final.
Along the way, there have been deep tournament runs that ended too early for the Blue Knights’ liking, with two semifinals appearances, in 2012 and 2015, and two trips to the quarterfinals, in 2014 and 2016.
But No. 2 Southington (18-2) has a chance to earn its first title appearance since 2011 tonight as it faces sixth-seeded Greenwich (19-4) in the semifinals at Bunnell High School at 6 p.m.
“We talk about the journey, not necessarily the destination, and I think they’re taking that to heart this year,” Blue Knights head coach Richard Heitz said. “[Our players] seem pretty loose and having a good time and enjoy playing.”
This will be the first meeting between Southington and the Cardinals since 2015, which also happened to be one of the semifinal matches the Blue Knights lost, after it ended in a 3-0 Greenwich victory.
This time around, Southington is expecting it to be a much more competitive match. Winners of 11 of their last 12, the Blue Knights’ only loss during their recent stretch came against RHAM, the No. 1 seed in Class L, in the Central Connecticut Conference championship game.
After getting a bye in the first round of the Class LL tournament, Southington swept No. 15 Staples in the second round and then proceeded to beat No. 10 Trumbull 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
“I feel like playing well really helps us want to do better because we know there’s always something that we can do better,” Blue Knights senior outside hitter Sarah Myrick said. “[Monday] at practice, we had a conversation about what each one of us can contribute to the team to make sure we’re successful [against Greenwich].”
But the Cardinals come in with plenty of momentum as well. Greenwich has not lost a match since falling to St. Joseph, the No. 1 seed in Class M, back on Sept. 27, having won its last 18 matches, including winning the FCIAC tournament title along the way.
And it has led the Cardinals to play well in the state tournament. Greenwich has yet to concede a set in its three games, sweeping No. 27 Darien in the first round before beating No. 11 Newington 3-0 in the second round and then No. 3 Ridgefield 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
“We have to play our game and stay aggressive,” Southington senior setter Steph Zera said. “We’re excited to play. All of us want this so bad. We have to play well.”
If anything, the Blue Knights have gotten plenty of preparation for this type of match. According to MaxPreps, Southington has played one of the most difficult schedules in the state this season, from facing teams like RHAM and Farmington to others outside the state in the John Jay Invitational and the Springfield Hall of Fame Classic.
Those matches have allowed the Blue Knights to improve what they believe they do best, which is passing, serving and their communication on the court.
“I think the ability to play against a RHAM, which in my mind is one of the best teams the state has ever seen,” Heitz said. “We had to fight for to the opportunity to play them in the [CCC] finals. And that was one of our goals, was to let them help make us better. I tell the kids not every team has an opportunity to play a team like that and they earned it. That was a tall team, stuff like that that you can’t replicate in practice. We’re not a very tall team.”
The Cardinals, however, do have some height, with five players at 5-foot-7 or taller, as well as a number of playmakers, starting with outside hitter Maggy Egan, who took MVP honors of the FCIAC Tournament. Setter Nicole Woods as well as Tara Ford and Adnerys DeJesus are some other standouts.
The Blue Knights, meanwhile, have plenty of playmakers of their own, whether it be libero Noyln Allen, Myrick, Zera, hitter Erica Bruno or middle hitter Hannah Zelina. Four different players have recorded 170 kills or more for Southington this season.
“We never have to worry about a person having an off day because even if one person is having an off day, there’s always 15 other girls to pick her up,” Myrick said. “No one has an off day on our team.”
And that will be key tonight, especially for a veteran team that would like nothing more than to have the opportunity to play for its first title since 2011. It just has to get through Greenwich first.
“This means a lot,” Zera said. “We have a lot of seniors on this team and we’re looking forward to competing [tonight].”David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach