SOUTHINGTON – A two-set lead for the Southington volleyball team was not as calming as one would think for head coach Rich Heitz as his Blue Knights took on Staples in the second round of the CIAC Class LL tournament on Thursday night.
“I knew they were going to step up,” said Heitz of the No. 15 seed out of the FCIAC. “They were down 2-0 to Ridgefield and came back and won the next two, and when you see scores of 25-11, 25-12, you have to worry about the kids getting complacent.”
Complacent the Blue Knights were not. After winning the opening games by those 25-11 and 25-12 scores, the No. 2 seed completed the sweep 26-24 by rallying late in the third set.
“It was toe to toe; they got off a few,” said Heitz. “There were a couple balls that went their way. We were down 24-21 and we were able to battle back.”
Heitz’s sense of Staples’ resiliency was 100-percent correct as his Knights took the court for the third set. Staples jumped off to a 4-1 lead to start the set. Southington was able to battle back to tie things up at 6-6. From there, it was back and forth until Staples jumped out to its 24-21 lead late in the set.
“Their season was on the line, I expected them to come out with some fire,” said Heitz. “They did. They came out a little more and they had better defense. I told my kids to get this close and we got it.”
Southington was able to rally for five straight points and steal a third set that was leaning toward the Staples’ side.
Brooke Cooney finished the night with 14 kills and five digs, Erica Bruno put up 13 kills, and Nolyn Allen had nine digs. Steph Zera added three aces and nine digs on the night.
“I just take a deep breath,” said Zera on her process when she is back in the serving area. “Calm myself down from all the energy. I don’t really have a specific routine. Some people do, but I just do whatever.”
Overall, Heitz was happy with the girls’ performance.
“I thought our ball control and our serving were very good,” said Heitz. “I thought our passing was really good on serves received. I thought Haley [Larrabee] passed well. I thought Nolyn was spot-on. I thought Jenna [Martin] passed well. When you’re doing that, it makes life a lot easier on Steph.”
Southington sees another FCIAC opponent this Saturday at 6 p.m. when Trumbull comes for a quarterfinal matchup. Heitz planned for a heavy FCIAC schedule early in the tournament.
“We did that one other year,” said Heitz. “The FCIAC is 18 schools and 17 are LL. It is what it is. The longer we stay in this, they are really good schools, so it will prepare us to advance.”
“They’re really good teams” said Zera. “We’re really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough road, but we got it.”