Wreckers advance to semis
Familiarity didn't breed contempt for the Staples boys volleyball team in its Class L playoff game Friday.
Staples faced Southington for the sixth straight year in the postseason and improved its playoff record to 5-1 over the Blue Knights with a 3-1 (25-22, 25-27, 25-22, 25-18) victory in the Class L quarterfinals.
"Southington is a very good team, and they swing the ball and hit the ball as hard as anyone," Wreckers coach Jon Shepro said. "It was a great match. It's always great to beat a good team like Southington. We knew we had to bring our "A" game and came in with a lot of confidence."
During the regular season, Staples defeated the Blue Knights, 3-0.
The second-seeded Wreckers raised their record to 19-1 and faced third-seeded Ridgefield in the semifinals last night after press time. Seventh-seeded Southington ended its season at 14-6.
It was nip and tuck most of the way with neither team being able to jump out to a comfortable lead. The biggest lead in the first three games was five points with Southington jumping out to a 17-12 lead in the second game and 16-11 in the third set. Staples biggest advantage in the first three games was four when it led 15-11 in the opener.
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Service errors hampered both teams from going on long runs with the Wreckers giving away 13 points on poor serves. Conversely, they received 12 free points courtesy of Southington's service errors.
Miscues weren't the only cause for short serving rallies. Both teams played well defensively with their liberos robbing opposing hitters of kills Scott Cohen (11 digs, three service points) keeping balls alive for Staples, and Peter DelBuono did the same for the Blue Knights. The Wreckers also got strong defensive contributions from setter Andrew Fishman (11 digs), top-hitter Jonah Aelyon (15 digs) and Emerson Lovell, who did better defensively than the five digs would indicate.
"I made sure I stayed on my toes and followed the ball," Lovell said.
In the two games the Wreckers trailed by five points, Lucas Carstens was at the epicenter at the start of both rallies. Carstens (eight service points, two aces) had no service errors in 16 serves and pulled Staples within one, 17-16, with three points in Game 2. In Game 3, he served four straight points, two aces, to tie it, 17-17.
"I focused on my job, which was to get the serves in, and I trusted my teammates," Carstens said.
In the second game, he began the climb which put Staples in position to pull it out. The Wreckers tied it twice, the first time at 24-24 on Fishman's (nine service points) service points, and the second one on Aelyon's kill.
However, Southington's hitters came through. Jeff Kolb's kill made it 25-24, and Alex Borofsky gave the Blue Knights the lead for good with a kill. Danny Carbone closed out the game with a block. Although the Wreckers didn't complete the comeback, they feel they gained energy from their late surge.
"The passing started to come around late in the second game," Shepro said. "It took us awhile to get our mojo back."
Fishman said, "We just kept on fighting. We didn't give up after losing Game 2, and even though we lost, we kept up our momentum."
Unlike the second game, Staples completed its comeback in Game 3. David Kalb's (nine kills, three digs, three service points, one ace) forced a sideout and cut the Wreckers' deficit to one, 19-18, and Lovell (seven service points) followed with three straight service points to give Staples a 21-19 lead, which it never relinquished the rest of the set.
"I took a few deep breaths, forgot about the mistakes and focused on the next play," Lovell said.
In the fourth game, Aelyon's kill gave the Wreckers the lead for good, 11-10. Southington stayed within a point for awhile, but Carbone's service error made it 17-15, and Staples closed out the match.
Carstens (six kills, three blocks, four digs) was a force in the middle.
"I worked hard in practice, and I was aggressive," Carstens said. "I wanted to hit every ball set to me, and each time they hit my way, I wanted to block it."
Fishman (51 assists, three kills) deftly set up Karstens, Kalb, Lovell (five kills, one block), Lucas Grevers (six kills, two blocks, one dig) and especially Aelyon.
"I don't know what happened to Lucas Carstens," Fishman said. "He played out of his mind today."
Shepro said, "I thought Lucas [Carstens] played a great job at the net."
Jonathan Denowitz had four digs for Staples.
Aelyon (22 kills, one block) was especially dominant in the front row and Southington couldn't handle his hits in the latter games.
"I don't think I played my best game defensively, so I focused on doing a great job in the front row," Aelyon said. "Southington had good blockers, but Andrew did a good job of getting it to me. I gave the extra energy I had left and swung as hard as I could each time."
Shepro said, "If they [Southington] know where the ball is going, it makes our job more difficult. Jonah can put it down, but it's easier if he faced one defender instead of two."
Aelyon (nine service points, one ace) forced a sideout with a kill to make it 22-18 and closed out the game with four service points, the last one an ace.
"I've had trouble with my serve this season, and I tried to rip it," Aelyon said. "I told myself at the end that it can't be my last game, so I served as hard as I could. I needed to get my serves in, and I'm happy I ended it."