HARTFORD – Not this time.
Second-seeded Newington boys volleyball fell in the Class M state championship to No. 1 Joel Barlow, 3-1, Thursday at SMSA. The loss snaps the Nor’easters three-year run as state title winners while the Falcons flew to their first ever state championship win.
“To get to the state final is always nice, but you want to close the deal when you get here,” Newington coach Curt Burns said. “I give a lot of credit to Barlow, they really stepped it up today.”
Newington had claimed six state championships in the previous eight Class M title games, leading up to the showdown on Thursday.
The Falcons lost their first set this season during the second game, 25-20, but rolled to wins in each of the other three sets, winning the first set, 25-16, the third set, 25-17 and the final frame, 25-20.
“We played really hard,” Nor’easters senior Josh Akosa said. “I’m feeling down, not going to lie, that’s what happens when you take a loss, but we had a really good season. We won the CCC tournament, there are positives.”
Newington had a trouble managing Barlow’s defense as the Falcons blocked numerous kill opportunities around the net throughout the match.
“They’re a superb defensive team,” Burns said. “Libero had a great match, he was digging everything and we couldn’t get any point runs against them and I think that was the difference.”
The Nor’easters had the momentum following a sharp second set, but a lengthy run from Barlow in the following frame erased that completely. Newington never seemed to recover following the third set defeat.
“The second set we were feeling uplifted, we thought we could do it,” Akosa said. “But the third set, they just answered back. We had a lot of errors, probably one of [the] most errors in a game. It was a turning point.”
Newington concluded with 28 errors in the contest.
Akosa accrued a team-high 13 kills and 14 digs for while Jacob Baclawski finished with 11 kills and 14 digs. Setter Eni Lici led in assists, racking up 33 helpers for the Nor’easters.
“We couldn’t get our termination game going,” Burns said. “Putting the ball down on first ball kill and those are points we are just used to winning.”
Barlow took advantage of lengthy runs in the final two sets as Newington couldn’t do much to slow down the high-flying Falcons offense.
“They were a very strong serving team,” Burns said. “They didn’t let you up for air, so to speak. They just kept the serve on you and didn’t make a lot of unforced serving errors. We didn’t pass as well as we could have and it’s hard to run the terminal offense we run without a good pass.”
Experience favored the victors as well as Baclawski was the only Nor’easters player who had played in a state championship game.
“They had really solid, experienced players,” Akosa said. “Our players are less experienced, but we were still up there with them, fighting with them, which is good.”
The Nor’easters will lose five seniors to graduation in Akosa, Baclawski, Lici, Sean Stegmaier and Dennis Nguyen.
“We’re a tight team,” Akosa said. “[We’re] talking after every match, before every match on the bus. Four out of five of us are going to UConn, really good friendship, it’s going to keep going from here.”
Akosa, Lici, Nguyen and Baclawski will all play club volleyball for the Huskies next year.
Newington finished the season with a 19-3 record.
Ryan Ames can be reached at 860-801-5094 or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.