CIAC VOLLEYBALL: Southington shows its strides; Cheshire also crafts a sweep

SOUTHINGTON — Peaking at the right time, the Southington boys volleyball team was at its best Wednesday night.

And if how much the Blue Knights have improved over the past two weeks is any indication of how far they can go in the CIAC Class L state tournament, get ready for a deep run.

Third-seeded Southington opened on Wednesday night by making quick work of No. 14 Glastonbury. The Blue Knights won 25-19, 25-13 and 25-23 to sweep the Guardians out of the SHS gym.

Wednesday night was just the latest example of how much Southington (18-4) has improved since beating Glastonbury twice in the Central Connecticut Conference regular season and tournament. 

On May 15, Southington needed five games to beat Glastonbury. The Blue Knights won the fifth game 15-13.

Last week, SHS needed four games to oust the Guardians in the CCC Tournament.

Wednesday night, the Blue Knight barely broke a sweat in sweeping the Guardians.

“In the last two weeks we’ve identified some areas where we needed to improve,” Southington head coach Lou Gianacopolos said. “We really worked on serving, and serving to spots. Serving aggressive.

“Believe it or not, our communication was much better today,” Gianacopolos continued. “There wasn’t one player on the court or bench who didn’t do their part to make the guys feel good. There were smiles out there today. Instead of being tense or feeling the nervousness of the tournament, they were relaxed and comfortable doing their thing.”

Up next for the Blue Knights is another CCC foe on Friday night, when they host Simsbury. The No. 6 Trojans beat Shelton 3-0 in their first-round match Wednesday night.

Southington will be looking to avenge a 3-1 loss to Simsbury in the regular season. 

But that loss came way back on April 5 in the third match of the season. Since that loss, Southington has won 15 of 18 matches and established itself among the top Class L teams in the state. like it or not.

“I always see my team as the weakest team, no matter what we are ranked or whatever,” Gianacopolos said. “I always feel there is more we can do and we can get better. So, tomorrow’s practice we are going to focus on things we can get better at.”

There wasn’t much SHS did wrong Wednesday night. Facing a familiar foe, Southington didn’t trail until the start of the third game.

An unexpected lull allowed the Guardians to take a 6-2 lead after being dominated by Southington over the first 45 minutes of the match. 

But after the Blue Knights llet Glastonbury take its first lead of the night, they came back to tie Game 3 at 10-10.

The end of Game 3 was also a little stressful for the Blue Knights. They led 20-14 only to see Glastonbury rally to tie, 22-22.

As Gianacopolos alluded to, Southington serving was the difference once again in Game 3. And as it did all night, the service game allowed the Blue Knights to close things out.

The Blue Knights continually set up their offense with outstanding serves by senior twins Ben and Sean Roper, A.J. Cannatelli and Eli Culotta.

As a team, the Blue Knights converted 90.4 percent of their serves. 

Sean Roper served at a 93.8 success rate, while Culotta converted 90 percent of his serves. Cannatelli was a perfect 100 percent.

“We have a mixture of serves — different types and styles of serves —so teams don’t get used to the same ball coming over the net,” Gianacopolos said. “We’ve got Ben Roper, who has the aggressive downball serve, and you have Sean Roper, who you could put a nickel out there and he’ll put the ball there. He’s just ice.

“And then we have A.J., who can serve a nice aggressive ball,” added Gianacopolos. ”Then, Eli coming in to serve, he’s got a rocket for a serve. But that is his job.”

 “When you’re serving you have to get that momentum for your team,” said Ben Roper. “It doesn’t have to be an ace; you just want to keep their offense off balance. 

While the servers set things up, having the 6-foot-10 Dylan Bouteiller at the net didn’t hurt SHS.

Bouteiller led the Blue Knights with 10 kills and his presence in the middle allowed hitters Dylan Rogala (7 kills), Connor Snow (6 kills) and Collin Martin (6 kills) do their thing from the outside.

Bouteiller stood tall when the Guardians tied the final game twice at 22-22 and 23-23. The junior’s height kept Glastonbury’s hitters off balance as they tried to hit over him.

Bouteiller’s 10th and final kill set up match point. Glastonbury was called for a carry to end the match.

Game 2 was never in question as the Blue Knights took a 9-3 lead and never looked back.

Southington led 15-6 on Martin push kill, while Dalton Messina got into the scoring act with a kill to make it 18-10.

A Sean Roper service point put SHS up 20-10 and Cannatelli ended Game 2 with an ace.

Southington’s effective serving started in Game 1. Ben Roper’s serves continually set up the offense, which was led by the outside hitting of Martin.

Southington opened up some breathing room at 14-10 and the lead stood at 23-17 after two Martin kills.

The Blue Knights closed out the opener on a Snow kill and carry by the Guardians.

Cheshire 3, Putnam 0: The No. 6 Rams opened their state bid in Class M with the first-round sweep over the No. 11 Clippers (10-11) in Cheshire.

Cheshire cruised 25-11, 25-19 and 25-16.

Matt Irizarry dished 24 assists while also getting to three digs and putting away three kills.

Will Allen collected a team-high eight kills, while Matti Lilback put away four. Allen and Lilback also planted three aces apiece.

Jason Cafourek was good for six kills.

The Rams, now 19-4, play at No. 3 Rockville (18-3) in the quarterfinals on Friday night.


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