SHELTON — Defense set the groundwork and the offense was soon to follow.
With Southington’s tallest player, Adam Brush, on the sidelines with a rolled ankle, coach Lou Gianacopolos was confident his innovative offense would be well-prepared. He also knew his players were mentally prepared.
He felt he had an advantage when he reviewed his scouting reports and was right on target.
The three outside hitters leveled blasts to the tune of 29 kills Monday night as third-seeded Southington stormed into the Class L boys volleyball final with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-19) trouncing of No. 2 Staples at Shelton High School.
The Knights (18-3) will meet top-seeded Ridgefield in the championship game on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Kennedy High School in Waterbury.
On Monday, intelligence, execution, depth and supreme confidence marked the Knights’ impressive conquest over the state’s most storied boys volleyball program.
“We put intelligence on the court all the time,” Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos said. “We made smart swings when we had to and we were aggressive when they were there.”
David Shaughnessy had 13 kills and a .478 hitting percentage. Dan Connolly and Dan Normandin had eight kills each. Mark Horanzy chipped in with six and Nate Keen with four.
Defensively, Connolly had 10 digs, Normandin seven and Shaughnessy six.
Peter Masters set magnificently and Tommy DelBuono was the hero from the service line.
“Masters ran an awesome offense,” Gianacopolos said. “You didn’t see anyone getting frazzled. It was just a great orchestra of volleyball.”
The first game was nip and tuck until Normandin stepped to the service line. With the score 10-10, Southington ran off five straight points, forcing a Staples timeout. When the Wreckers methodically crept back to 18-17, it was Gianacopolos’ turn to halt the action.
The Knights came out bent on putting it away. Shaughnessy, Connolly and Keen took turns slugging. Staples was on its heels as the Knights scored seven of the final nine points.
The Knights’ defense was dominant. They dominated at the net, getting touches on the blasts from Staples’ big front line, and returned spikes that seemed to stun the Wreckers.
“We’ve gone to matches and coaches have said afterwards, ‘When did Southington start playing defense?’” Gianacopolos noted. “We spend more time playing defense and our defense is better because Shaughnessy started off this year as a libero and wanted to hit outside. What better to have a great defensive outside, and when you have a captain who’s passionate about defense, it’s gong to bleed off on other people.”
Staples was clearly flustered. Indecision and communication lapses penetrated the Wreckers’ ranks.
“They passed better than any team I’ve played against,” Staples’ 6-foot-6 senior middle hitter Lucas Grevers said. “They played hard, they hustled and deserved to win. We really played sloppy and we kept letting every error bring us down. It was depressing. I wish we could do it over.”
The momentum carried into Game 2 with Connolly providing the impetus.
His block was the igniter. His kill restored the lead. After Masters executed a perfect dink, Connolly’s block gave the Knights a 4-1 lead.
With DelBuono on to serve, Southington extended the lead to 12-5.
When Staples managed a surge, the Knights emphatically cut it short. The lead never shrunk beneath five and when it did reach that point late in the game, it was the defense again the put the Knights on the road to the nine-point win.
“He was a question early in the season,” Gianacopolos said of DelBuono. “We said we didn’t have anybody to serve that long, short whatever-we-want ball. He today served the best I’ve seen, and when better to start serving that great but the semifinals.”
The Wreckers finally got in rhythm as the third game commenced. They received serves efficiently and set up Grevers and Ian Grimes for some thunder spikes that led to an 8-2 lead out of the gate. But once again, when DelBuono stepped to the line, the momentum reversed completely.
He ran off nine straight service points and Southington led 12-8 as the Wreckers’ errors again eroded dreams of a dramatic comeback.
The Knights again never allowed Staples (18-2) to string together enough points to threaten the lead. They led 17-15 when setter Andrew Marriott missed a serve. The Wreckers against cut it to two at 19-17, but an unforced error and kills by Normandin and Horanzy created a vacuum that sucked them out of the tournament.