Riding a 16-match win streak, the Cheshire High School boys’ volleyball team carried momentum into Monday's Class M semifinal at Pomperaug. The Rams were driven to play for a state title this year, but their journey came up just short at the hands of a familiar foe.
As the second seed, Newington (19-2) won 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 26-24) over the third-seeded Rams (17-3) to reach the title match for the third time in five years. The contest was a rematch of the 2019 Class M final that Newington won by a score of 3-1.
“They have a good program and with them being a rival, we knew that this would be a tough match,” said Cheshire Head Coach Sue Bavone.
Newington enjoyed a fast start on Monday, building leads of 3-0 and 5-1 in the first set. The Rams used two kills from senior Thor Novicelli and a big hit by senior Jeremy Alliger to pull to within 6-5, but the Nor’easters went on a 6-1 run. During that spurt, freshman Vietanh Dinh served a ball that clipped the top of the net and dropped over for an ace.
Cheshire rallied to tie the first set, 18-18, on a kill by Novicelli, but senior Joshua Akosa put down a ball to put Newington back ahead. CHS cut the deficit to a single point on three occasions, but were unable to draw even from there and dropped the set.
The Rams got off a better start in game two, taking their first lead at 3-2, but by riding the hitting of senior Jacob Baclawski, Newington reeled off four points to take a 14-10 advantage. Baclawski finished with 18 kills (game high) and four digs.
“We had to be more efficient defensively and serving-wise tonight,” stated Bavone. “He (Baclawski) hurt us on the outside. There were too many balls that hit the floor.”
CHS and Newington traded missed serves in the middle of the second set. Cheshire closed the gap to 20-18, but the Nor’easters went on a 4-1 spurt and clinched the game on a missed serve.
Newington returned to win the opening three points of the third set, however, the Rams responded with three points of their own. With the score tied at 5-5, the Nor’easters went on a 3-0 run and kept momentum through the middle of the set.
CHS didn’t go without a fight. Trailing 20-13, the Rams battled back to erase a match point and tie the game at 24-24. However, in a costly play, Cheshire missed the next serve and Newington won the following point to clinch the match.
“That (serving) has been our Achilles heel all year,” reflected Bavone. “We worked hard to get back in the game and then gave that point away.”
Running the Newington offense, senior Eni Lici tallied 41 assists on Monday.
For Cheshire, junior Tim Nugent earned 28 assists, two digs, and a kill. Novicelli compiled 11 kills and two blocks, while Alliger supplied eight kills.
Senior Samson Portal added four kills, two digs, and a block.
“We didn’t get enough offensive contributions,” reflected Bavone. “Thor (Novicelli) was our big guy tonight. We tried to get Jeremy (Alliger) going, but Newington has some big guys in the middle and the blocking frustrated us.”
Two nights earlier in quarterfinal action, Cheshire won 3-0 (26-24, 25-19, 25-23) over Simsbury (11th seed, 9-12). The Rams overcame seven missed serves to take a tight opening set and then won the next two games to get the sweep.
“Being our final home match, we really wanted to win tonight,” stated Alliger, a co-captain with Ronik Patel.
Nugent tallied 24 assists, four kills, and two aces. Senior Shea Cronin compiled 11 digs, while Novicelli supplied 10 kills and four digs. Senior Collin Crowe added three kills and three digs.
In ending the spring season, Cheshire will say goodbye to a large senior class of Alliger, Patel, Christian Boucaud, Shea Cronin, Crowe, Jonathan D’Addona, Ethan Feinberg, Harrison Hua, Brendan Kelly, Sahith Maganti, Novicelli, Portal, and Hamed Sow-Sene.
After missing last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the seniors led the Rams to an unbeaten season in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“We are so close,” stated Patel. “The team really came together this year.”
“This was a great season,” said Bavone. “We didn’t want it to end this way (with a loss), but the boys did well overall.”