Jones earned Most Valuable Player laurels by pounding down 20 kills Thursday night in leading the top-seeded Tigers to their second Class L boys volleyball championship with a 3-0 (25-20, 27-25, 25-23) win over No. 3 Southington at the Kennedy High School gym.
Ridgefield (21-2), which last won a title in 2003, swept all three of its tournament matches against CCC competition, leaving East Hartford and Glastonbury by the wayside before devouring the Knights (19-4).
Southington is 1-4 in state finals matches, its lone title coming in 2010.
“The only way athletes should hang their heads after a match, whether they won or lost, is if they weren’t happy with the effort they put forward,” Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos said. “If you’re not happy with the effort you gave, then you should be disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed. I think everyone gave 110 percent.”
The crisp play that characterized Southington’s win over Staples in the semifinals was on display Thursday night on the opposite side of the net. Jones and 6-foot-4 middle blocker David Linder used their strength and height superiority to their advantage.
“We let some important games get away from us and I knew they wanted this badly. I knew they didn’t even want to drop a game,” Ridgefield coach Lidania Cibere said. “Southington is a great team, coached very well, and when we were down, we just stayed together. We played like a team and pulled it off.”
The Knights managed to dominate Staples without their 6-foot-5 middle blocker Adam Brush, on crutches with a severely sprained ankle sustained in practice the day before the semifinals. Gianacopolos didn’t believe Brush’s presence would have changed the course of events Thursday night, but it couldn’t have hurt.
“When you’re missing a 6’5 kid who contacts the ball at 10-5 just like they had, it makes a difference,” Gianacopolos said.
“When we played Staples it didn’t, but Ridgefield came out hot and they had successful attackers.
“Adam Brush is an amazing volleyball player, but unless he was in the match, I couldn’t tell you if it would have made a difference.”
In Game 1, the Ridgefield lead grew to nine when the Knights mounted their first sustained attack. Showing the diversity up front that stifled Staples, they closed to 20-16 and again to 24-20, but it proved to be too late.
In the second game, Southington nursed an early lead that reached a high point of three at 10-7 on a kill by setter Peter Masters (21 assists, 3 kills). With the score tied at 13, the Tigers ran off six straight points, but Southington battled back to force a deuce game.
A kill by Jones and a missed set spelled defeat for Southington. Three missed serves were also costly.
“[Jones] came out here ready to play,” Cibere said. “He’s the player of the year, in my opinion. I think he was completely unstoppable at the net.”
Southington pulled out to its largest lead of the match in Game 3. A kill by Dan Connolly (team-high 10 kills, 6 digs) sent the Knights to a 17-10 advantage, but a series of mistakes, combined with some thunder strikes from Jones, dissipated it quickly.
“Ball control was pretty key,” Gianacopolos said. “When we were trying to get the ball to [Masters], it was a little too high and too tight. Peter struggled at the top of the net with some over-passes. When we tried to make a correction, it brought the ball too far off the net. It was a major issue for us.”
When Ridgefield cut it to 18-16, Gianacopolos called timeout. Masters deftly altered the direction of a pass for a 22-20 lead, but the Tigers were intent on closing it out. Kills by John Findlay and Karl Liapunov (16 digs, 8 kills) and blocks by Linder and Jones sealed the win. The Tigers never led in the third and final game until taking a 23-22 lead.
As for the Blue Knights, who got Southington boys volleyball back in the state finals after a three-year absence, Gianacopolos said, “This team has exceeded my expectations. I didn’t know we were going to go to the finals. I believe with the preparation we made we were a final-four team, but making it to the finals this year, I’m very proud of them.”