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VOLLEYBALL: Saturday Night Epic! Blue Knights take 5-set thriller from Greenwich, advance to final four

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SOUTHINGTON — Southington’s volleyball season was pushed to the brink Saturday night and the Blue Knights responded in a big way.

Down 6-3 in Game 5, the No. 3 Blue Knights ripped off a 12-5 run to power their way back into the Class LL final four with a 3-2 quarterfinal win over No. 11 Greenwich.

Southington was powered by hitters Camilla Wessels (14 kills), Katrina Possidento (9), and Natalee Grindle and Etta Rocco (8 each).

It was Rocco who had three kills in the final 5-1 surge that sealed the match.

It was Rocco who smashed match point home with a set from Gabriella Wanner, who came off the bench and was spot-on with 29 assists.

Game scores were 25-23, 22-25, 25-16, 17-25 and 15-11.

“That was the best team we’ve faced all year,” Greenwich coach Marianna Linnehan said. “We were neck and neck, and it could have gone either way tonight.”

Instead, for a 23rd straight match, it went Southington’s way. The Blue Knights (23-1) will face No. 7 Glastonbury (20-5), a CCC West rival, in the semifinals at a neutral site on Wednesday night.

It will be Southington’s fifth trip to the state semifinals and second in a row. The Blue Knights have made four state finals, with their lone state crown coming in 2009.

Greenwich (18-6) had previously knocked out Southington in the 2015 and 2017 semifinals. Not this year. 

Game 5 started with a Wessels kill that sent the Blue Knight faithful into pandemonium. However, Greenwich responded to go up 6-3.

Possidento started the Southington charge back with a pair of kills. Greenwich led 8-6 before Southington finished the match with a 9-2 flourish.

Rocco saved her best for last. Paige Raines added an ace to the run.

“This is up there with the most exciting wins I’ve had,” Heitz said. “I knew this was going to be tough today.

“I’m so proud of the CCC West,” Heitz added. “We have three teams in the final four with Glastonbury in LL and Farmington in L.”

League-wide, the CCC has six semifinalists. Defending Class M champ RHAM is alive and both Bristol schools, Central and Eastern, made it in Class L.

In Southington, the Blue Knights started the match strong. Grindle closed out the opening game with a slam set up by starting setter Megan Smith, who totaled 10 assists in the opening set to five different attackers.

Game 1 was tight throughout. Southington carved out a 18-13 lead; the Cardinals responded with a 6-0 run served by Sarah Bernann (35 assists).

Southington took the lead back with consecutive kills by Wessels. The powerhouses went back and forth with the lead before the Blue Knights gained set-point on a Cardinals’ missed serve.

In Game 2, the squads exchanged 4-0 runs and were tied at 13-after Southington erased a 13-9 deficit with strong serving from Raines.

A Kassidy Bonney ace for Greenwich gave the Cardinals a 19-17 lead. Greenwich, however, missed a serve, and back-to-back aces by Southington’s Lilly Stoltz put the Blue Knights up 20-19.

Greenwich responded with a 3-0 run out of a timeout. Cameron Clark (8 kills) had a block and kill on consecutive points to get the visitors back in control. Greenwich led 23-21 and Southington called for timeout.

Two points later, Alina Sarkissian (7 kills) provided the set-clinching kill to even the match, 1-1. Greenwich made some clutch digs on some powerful Southington swings to extend points. 

Like the first two games, Game 3 featured several small runs on each side.

Southington libero Alyssa Ferreira served a nice run as the hosts went up 14-11 and forced Greenwich to call a timeout. The stoppage didn’t slow Ferreira down. She planted a pair of aces.

In all, Southington went on a 11-1 run that included back-to-back kills by Possidento to take a 22-12 lead. Greenwich fought off three set points before Grindle sealed the set with a smash. 

Down 2-1, Greenwich rebounded, starting Game 4 with a 6-0 run that included two kills by Sarkissian and one apiece by Bonney (16 kills) and Joy Houdre.

Greenwich led 11-5 when Possidento planted a kill and Wessels followed with two in a row. In all, it was a 5-1 uprising that got Southington within 12-10.

The Cardinals were able to get breathing room back with a 4-0 spurt served by Hayley Dionis (22 digs, 5 aces). 

The 16-10 deficit was too much for the Blue Knigths to overcome. The visitors fiinished the set 25-17 to send the quarterfinal to its limit.

“We knew this was going to be a very tough match,” Wessels said. “Greenwich is a very good team and we worked really well together tonight. We had some rough patches, but I’m thrilled to keep going in states. I would have been upset if this was my last match here.”

“This is what high school sports is all about,” Heitz said. “You really get nervous when it gets to the fifth set. I’m glad we all get to play together a little longer.”

Southington couldn’t have won the game without the play of Ferreira. The junior libero threw her body all over the court point after point and produced a match-high 27 digs.

“She got compliments from the Staples coach and the Greenwich coach,” Heitz noted. “They were shocked she was only a junior.”

Ferreira switched to libero after playing outside hitter as a sophomore.

“I take time out of the day to mentally and physically prepare for the bumps and bruises,” Ferreira said. “I learned to read and react to the ball, and that’s the most important thing of being a libero. Just learning how other people attack the ball. Tonight, the nerves got high, but we controlled ourselves and stayed calm.”

“I’m so happy for these kids,” said Heitz. “This was an epic battle tonight.”


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