By Greg Lederer
Special to The Record-Journal
HARTFORD — Back on April 20 on their home floor, the Cheshire boys volleyball team fell 3-0 to Masuk.
After building up their skills and chemistry together, the Rams were excited to have another shot at the Panthers in Friday’s Class M state final at Sport and Medical Sciences Academy. Cheshire entered having won eight straight matches, but it was the rival from Monroe that came out on top again.
No. 6 CHS (21-5) fell 3-0 by scores of 18-25, 19-25, and 15-25 to No. 4 Masuk (21-4).
“We had a good year, but I would have liked to see us put on a better showing than we did today,” said Cheshire coach Sue Bavone.
The opening set was tight until the Panthers used a 6-0 spurt to turn a one-point edge into a 24-17 advantage. Masuk clinched the set on a kill by senior Owen Joseph Smith.
The Panthers continued the surge into Game 2, jumping out to a 11-4 advantage. Cheshire reeled off five points to cut the deficit to 23-18, but the Panthers still sealed the set on a kill by sophomore Danny Ferris.
Bavone felt that the Rams didn’t do enough to put Masuk under pressure.
“We didn’t pass well; we served weak,” said Bavone. “There were hitting opportunities, but we weren’t able to transition well from defense to offense.”
CHS tried to rally in the third set. Cheshire went up 4-3, but the Panthers won the next three points and never trailed again.
Senior Jason Cafourek put down a kill to pull the Rams to within two points at 10-8. However, the Panthers went on a 7-1 spurt to take control.
“Masuk put up a good fight,” said Cafourek, a tri-captain with senior Matt Irizarry and junior Will Allen. “I think they just got the best of us.”
Senior Nathan McCauley (18 kills), Ferris (14 kills) and sophomore Nathan Kurkoski (39 assists) led Masuk to their first state championship in 14 years.
“It hurts to see us come up short, but they came ready to play today,” said Irizarry.
At setter, Irizarry posted 23 assists and four digs. Sophomore Matti Lilback tallied 10 kills and two blocks, while Allen earned seven kills and three digs.
Junior Connor Hayes finished with six kills, two aces, and two blocks.
While not reaching their ultimate goal on Friday, the Rams reached the state finals for the first time in four years. Cheshire also won the Southern Connecticut Conference regular-season and tournament crowns.
“I’m proud of us as a team,” said Cafourek. “The guys worked hard all year.”
The Rams will graduate a deep senior class of Cafourek, Irizarry, Drew D’Addio, Brad Fowler, Ildi Hoxha, Evan Joaquim, Andrew Norcross, Jake Zawel and manager Avery Mola.
“Everyone is so kind and caring; the boys just want to have fun and play volleyball,” explained Irizarry. “I want to see the guys back here (in the finals) next year. I’ll be sitting over there.”
“This senior group worked hard in the off-season,” added Bavone. “Hopefully, the younger guys take note of that coming back next year.”