Southington edges Staples at Class L
A single loss can turn a season with 21 wins into a bitter disappointment. That's what the Staples boys volleyball team experienced as it fell to Southington 3-2 (10-25, 28-26, 25-23, 19-25, 15-11) in the Class L state championship on Friday at Conard.
This was the fourth consecutive year the two teams met with the Class L title on the line, and the first that Southington went home with it. Staples hasn't ended its season without a state championship since 2005, and that was the only year since the CIAC began holding volleyball state tournaments. This was the first loss of any kind since 2006 for Staples, who had a 101 game winning streak going before running into Southington this year.
Senior captain Tom Prenderville (24 kills, 10 digs, six service points, three blocks) and senior captain Mikey Fitzgerald (21 assists, 17 digs, 10 kills, seven service points, and four blocks) led the way for Staples, but Southington's offensive attack proved to be too strong.
It didn't appear that way in the first game, however. It seemed that the pressure was getting to second-seeded Southington as first-seeded Staples crushed them 25-10 to start the match. Coach Bruce Betts' team was rolling on all cylinders; Prenderville was racking up kills, senior captain Evan Gaumert (10 kills, three service points, one dig) was playing very well, and junior Danny Fishman was digging balls out with relative ease.
The second game didn't go as smoothly for Staples. After they went up 1-0 on a long Southington serve, Southington won four straight points, then another five straight, and soon enough Staples was in a 9-2 hole. Slowly but surely though, Staples fought back and tied it at 20 apiece. Moments later, senior captain Matt Brill (three kills, two blocks) had a huge kill to make the score 23-21, and it seemed Staples might stage an unbelievable game two comeback and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match. Southington rallied though, and took game two 28-26.
With the score 3-3 in the third game, junior Ryan Winters lunged into the Southington stands to save a seemingly lost point, and Prenderville threw down a huge kill for arguably the best point of the match. The game eventually became another win-by-two scenario when the score became 23-23, but this time Southington took the game quickly, 25-23.
Staples won Game 4 in usual Staples fashion; Prenderville and Fitzgerald contributed with many kills as Staples took a 25-19 win to force a first to 15 point game five.
The fifth game was all Southington. Staples fell into a quick 7-1 hole, rallied to put the score 9-6, but eventually conceded 15-11. Southington fans stormed the court and Staples was left in shock, each player losing their first ever game. "We haven't felt that way in four years," said Betts.
Understandably, that feeling among the players was disappointment. "We were outplayed today," said Fitzgerald. Staples actually outscored Southington 110-97 overall, but couldn't win the two, 2-point games and lost Games 2 and 3. "They played an unbelievable game," said senior captain libero Andrew Glenn (18 digs, eight service points).
"They were out for blood after the last few years," said junior Steven Denowitz (eight service points, four assists, three kills). Glenn agreed: "It's tough to win every game every day because being Staples, we always have a huge target on our backs," said Glenn. "Southington used the location of the game to their advantage and packed the gym."
Southington won this year, but only for the first time in four years of Staples versus Southington. This upset win may add fuel to the fire that is this rivalry; without dominance on one end, potential future matches will only gain more intensity. Staples is confident in its chances to take back the crown. "We're still the best program in the state," said Betts.
Next year, the Wreckers will get the chance to prove that. Seniors Prenderville, Fitzgerald, Brill, Gaumert, Glenn, Danny Hlawitschka (seven assists), and Mike Beispel will graduate, and this year's juniors, who include Fishman, Denowitz, and Winter, will take the reigns.
Sophomore Jonah Aelyon is another integral player from this year's squad who will be a major asset next year. "We're going to have to beat Southington next year," said Denowitz.