SOUTHINGTON — Seeking its first state title since 2009, Southington girls volleyball rides a 24-game winning streak into Saturday’s Class LL final.
No. 3 Southington will face No. 1 Darien, the defending state champion, at 6 p.m. at East Haven High School.
Both squads are riding lengthy winning streaks. The Blue Knights (24-1) haven’t lost since a season-opening defeat to Trumbull. The Blue Wave (24-0) have won 49 matches in a row dating back to the start of 2022.
This is Darien’s 21st appearance in the state finals. The Blue Wave have won 18 state crowns.
This is Southington’s fourth trip to the state finals and first since 2011. The others were in 1995 and the lone state title year of 2009.
Southington’s 2023 postseason run began with a successful defense of the CCC Tournament crown.
In the Class LL tourney, after a first-round bye, the Blue Knight swept No. 14 Staples 3-0 in the second round, outlasted No. 11 Greenwich 3-2 in the quarterfinals last Saturday and dusted No.7 Glastonbury 3-0 in the semifinals on Wednesday night.
“Nothing sunk in on Wednesday, but yesterday towards the end of practice it really did,” Southington coach Rich Heitz said Friday. “You are getting to the point of the season where skills aren’t going to change much, but the mental aspect is something you can still work on. We brought in a sports psychologist and we had a good session with her.”
Southington is led by Cami Wessels, who has a team-high 339 kills, 73 aces and 223 service points.
Wessels has four solid hitters alongside her in Natalee Grindle (218 kills, 44 aces), Etta Rocco (167 kills, 35 aces, 48 blocks), Katrina Possidento (157 kills, 33 blocks) and Erika Davies (144 kills, 32 blocks).
Junior libero Alyssa Ferreira has a team-high 385 digs as well as 45 aces. Sophomore Paige Raines is second on the team with 208 digs. Wessels has 176.
Megan Smith has been the go-to setter for much of the season with 721 assists.
However, Heitz hasn’t hesitated to go to Gabriella Wanner off the bench. Wanner was on the floor to close out Greenwich and Glastonbury.
Darien, coached by Laurie LaRusso, had sweeps over No. 16 Brien McMahon, No. 8 Cheshire and No. 4 Trumbull, second round through semis, on its way to Saturday.
“We scrimmaged them and we played them in the John Jay finals,” Heitz noted. “They have a good team. Their setter is going to Boston College and their outside hitter is going to Kansas. But Greenwich went five sets with them and we went five sets with Greenwich, so you never know.”
Ellie Moore is Darien’s top attacker with 260 kills, including 16 against Trumbull in the semis. She also has a team-high 83 aces and is second on the Blue Wave in digs (168)
Marin Black is second in the pecking order with 190 kills and has a team-high 43 blocks.
Brooke Leone (139 kills, 39 aces, 164 digs) and Katelyn Erdlen (102 kills, 25 blocks) both have also eclipsed 100 kills on the season.
Ayla Scehck, the team’s libero, has 211 digs. Setter Aubrey Moore has 633 assists.
Heitz said his 2023 Knights have the strongest chemistry of any team he’s had. The team has depth and has given him lots of flexibility this fall. Southington has also shown strong balance and reliance this year.
“After dropping the first match of the year to Trumbull, we were down 13-10 in the fifth set against Simsbury and we scored the last five points to win the match," Heitz said. “Wednesday night we were down 27-26 and scored the last three points to win. That says a lot about our heart and desire.”