NEWINGTON — For the first time in 12 years, the Southington girls volleyball team is back in the Class LL state finals.
The No. 3 Blue Knights swept No. 7 Glastonbury 3-0 in the semifinals Wednesday night by game scores of 25-20, 25-23 and 29-27 in front of a large and loud crowd at Newington High School’s Richard E. Rogalski Gymnasium.
“Scores are deceiving because that didn’t feel like a sweep,” Southington coach Rich Heitz said. “Glastonbury gave us everything they had.”
The Blue Knights, winners of 24 straight and now 24-1, will now face top seed and undefeated reigning champ Darien in the Class LL state final on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at East Haven High School. Darien swept No. 4 Trumbull in Wednesday’s other Class LL semi.
This is Southington’s fourth trip to the state finals. The lone title in program history came in 2009, a title won on Heitz’s watch.
For Heitz, the trip the 2023 final had not yet sunk in moments after Wednesday’s match. Because Glastonbury is a CCC West foe, he noted, the semifinal felt like more of a CCC Tournament game, only with much more on the line.
Southington won the two regular-season meetings with Glastonbury, 3-1 and 3-2, prior to Wednesday’s sweep.
“That was the toughest of the three games we played them.” Heitz said. “I give my kids a lot of credit for gutting it out. I’m very happy for them.”
Southington finished off the opening set with a 9-4 run to take control early in the match. Etta Rocco closed out the set with a kill set up by Megan Smith (28 assists).
Cami Wessels (15 kills, 7 digs) had a match-high five kills in the opening set. Natalee Grindle added four of her 10 and Rocco had two of her seven.
The CCC West rivals were tied 16-16 before the Knights exploded to a strong finish. Lauren Mosca and setter McKenna Reynolds (27 assists) had a pair of kills for the Guardians.
The Knights jumped out 6-0 in Game 2 behind the strong setting of Paige Raines. Rocco had two early kills to get the Knights going.
Southington was able to maintain the lead for much of the set to go up 17-9. Then Glastonbury ripped off a 6-0 run behind the serving of Mosca to get right back in it.
Southington rebounded with kills by Wessels, Katrina Possidento and Grindle to regain control, 24-18.
“This match was nerve-wracking,” Grindle said. “They did a good job blocking us, but our setters were on point today.
“We are super-excited,” Grindle added. “We’ve been going up the staircase for the last three years and I’m super-excited for the seniors.”
The Guardians didn’t go away quietly in Game 2. They used another 6-0 run and fought off five set points to get within 24-23 behind the serving of Amanda LeClair.
Finally, on Southington’s sixth chance to close out the set, Davies provided a game-clinching block.
Down two games to none, the Guardians jumped out to a 8-4 lead in the third set behind back-to-back kills from Kara Shea, who finished with nine.
Southington answered with a 6-0 surge to take back the lead. Lilly Stoltz served the run, which included two aces. Wessels had two kills and Possidento added a slam as the Knights went up 10-8.
Gabriella Wanner had 11 assists in relief of Smith at setter. Heitz has ridden the hot hand at the position all season.
Glastonbury rallied to tie the third set 13-13, then scored four straight points to go up 17-13 behind one of Mosca’s six kills on the night.
Southington turned it around behind a pair of slams from Wessels to reclaim the lead 19-18. A Raines kill made it 21-19.
The to-and-fro continued:
■Glastonbury scored three straight to go ahead 22-21; Southington evened it up.■Glastonbury’s Shea smacked a kill; advantage Guardians, 23-22. ■Grindle and Davies had single kills to save set points for Southington at 24-23 and 27-26.
“It was so stressful and exciting at the same time,” Davies said. “There is so much support on the team, and even if I missed I know the team had my back.
“It’s crazy we are in the finals; it’s surreal,” Davies added. “We worked so hard for this and we are ready to take on the challenge.”
Southington capped the match with three straight kills. Libero Alyssa Ferreira (19 digs) set up Wessels for the final point, 29-27.
“I knew we could do it; we kept pushing and showing our strengths and drive that pushed us this far,” Wessels said. “This match was a challenge and we knew it was coming. We knew this was going to be hard, but I knew we could push ourselves to the win.”