NAUGATUCK – Cheshire volleyball coach Sue Bavone knew her troops would be severely tested.
Two of her best hitters and tallest players – Lindsey Abramson and Meagan Clyne – were out of commission. She had to fill the slots with sophomores, hoping that the leadership of the seniors would reinforce confidence. Confidence ebbed early in the first game and No. 5 Amity never let up.
With No. 1 Cheshire vulnerable at the net, Amity middle blocker Abby Harbinson had a field day and plenty of help Wednesday night in pacing the Spartans to a 3-0 sweep in a Class LL semifinal with their raucous partisan supporters filling up Naugatuck High’s Edward Mariano Gymnasium.
Game scorers were 25-14, 25-19, 25-21.
Cheshire’s season ends at 23-1. Amity (19-4), which had lost both regular-season matches to the Rams in SCC play, will meet Greenwich in the final Saturday night in East Haven.
“We had a lot of problems tonight,” Bavone said. “They came to play. We knew they were going to bring the emotion. They had nothing to lose. They’re not afraid of us. Being down two starters didn’t help. At this time of the year, being down two starters is tough to get through. Being short at the net was a definite disadvantage. ”
Harbinson had 15 kills and two blocks. Madeline Adzigian and Lauren Campos contributed six kills each and Amelia Taddei had four. Setter Jaiden Williams was spot on with 34 assists.
“This was Lauren’s first full varsity match with Danielle Nordyk out. She came up big,” Amity coach Seth Davis said. “She kept us in points where we usually rely on someone else.”
Cheshire’s destiny looked shaky from the start. Harbinson killed two of the first three points and the Rams never led. Even four service errors couldn’t alter the Spartans’ command of the set and they won going away. Harbinson had five kills in the set. Campos and Taddei had three apiece. The Rams were on their heels.
“We didn’t serve as well as we’re capable of serving and didn’t pass as well as we’re capable of passing. The basics of this game is a serving and passing game. If you can’t serve and you can’t pass, you can’t run any offense,” Bavone said. “Our passes put the setters in the back court all night long. We weren’t able transition any offense off of our defense. We were basically target practice all night.”
A kill by Elena Piran (6 kills, 7 digs, 2 blocks) gave Cheshire a positive start in the second game, but it became a back-and-forth affair. Cheshire led 17-15, but Amity went on a game-winning surge. A net violation, one of five on the night, and a serve receive mishap brought the Rams down and Harbinson finished the job.
The third game was tied at 13 when the Spartans made their move.
A missed serve preceded pair of hard serves by Brooke Matyasovsky and a net violation that provided Amity a sudden four-point edge. Piran’s kill slowed the Rams’ demise, but Harbinson’s kill restored the Spartans’ momentum.
A dink by Brady McQuade (4 kills, 4 blocks, 2 digs) narrowed the margin to 22-20, but once again free balls led to fundamental offensive execution, which for Amity ends with the 6-foot-1 Harbinson exploiting defensive holes.
“[McQuade] did the best job of anybody tonight,” Bavone said. “They came out and fought for every point and we allowed them to get in our heads. We have a young team that hasn’t been in this kind of situation, but I expected to continue with tough serves. But in losing Clyne (back injury) and losing Abramson, we lost two of our best servers and two of our best blockers, and playing a team with that kind of size is very difficult.”
Ariana Perlini, one of the sophomores called on to step up, had seven kills, four digs and two aces. Nicole Purtill chipped in with seven digs on defense. But nobody in red could offset the litany of errors or the power of Harbinson.