By MICHAEL LETENDRE
SOUTHINGTON – The Bristol Eastern volleyball team threw the preverbal kitchen sink at Southington on Friday night, Oct. 19.
And in turn, the Knights threw it right back at the Lancers.
In an exciting tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, battle to the end, five set marathon, Eastern posted its biggest win of the year and picked off the Knights 3-2 in a CCC Interdivisional showdown from Southington in front of a hot and rowdy crowd.
Eastern won the match in sets of 21-25, 25-19, 25-23, 24-26 and 15-11.
The Lancers raised its record to a perfect 15-0 ledger while the Knights fell to 11-4 on the campaign.
The sweeps of Farmington and Glastonbury were impressive this past year for the Lancers but Eastern, trailing one set to nothing off the bat and even as the pressure was mounting, a fifth and final set was forced and the Lancers were the ones celebrating a huge victory in the end.
“This is what we really practiced for,” said Eastern coach Stacey Rivoira. “This was our first, true test at playing a team that matched us pretty equally and I just wanted the girls to enjoy it.”
It wasn’t a total masterpiece for the Lancers as Eastern made some mistakes along the way.
Eastern made 10 service errors, had over 35 defensive miscues, 16 passing mistakes to go along with 16 blocking gaffes.
But through it all, Southington made similar mistakes and in the end, those miscues by the Knights outweighed the ones made by the visiting squad.
“I think that it was a match that exposed our weaknesses and challenged us to really play a smarter game,” said Rivoira. “We haven’t had that yet this season. As great as it was to come out on the winning end, I think that the girls learned more from today’s game than any other game they’ve had all season and really as a team, this is where we want our competition to be.”
“Win or lose, you feel good playing a team like that and a team that pushes you to go beyond your level and make you think.”
Karissa Smith led Eastern’s charge with 15 kills, three blocks and 17 digs while Beth Cucka added seven kills.
Cheyenne Orsi rained down 10 kills and posted four blocks while teammate Jessica Hubina added eight kills and made an outstanding 18 digs.
Maggie Getler (six digs) and Brooke Johnson (five digs) were strong on the serving front while setter Brianna Root once again piled up the assists with 33 and got those Eastern frontline players the ball in all the right spots.
Jenna Rodjenski also played well, making a kill, producing 12 digs, and was solid from the service line with 13 points.
For Southington, Corinne Horanzy was simply sensational as her power game was on full display as she tallied 28 blazing kills to go along with 17 digs.
Eastern did a credible job at meeting Horanzy at the net but her power game propelled the Knights to a fifth and deciding set.
Setter Danielle Kaminsky racked up 48 assists for Southington.
The match intensity is something Eastern will see not only to end its regular season but in the upcoming state tournament.
“We play Coventry on Wednesday, it’s great preparation, and they needed this,” said Rivoira. “We can only get so much out of practice every day. They needed to see a hitter like Corinne, snap that ball at them, and put the ball down with such power and finesse. She is a phenomenal player and my girls needed to play against someone like that. My girls needed to see how their block matched up against that.”
“We needed to see what we need to do to get better (and) a game like this help us to do that and a game like this helps us tremendously going into Coventry’s game.”
Eastern looked a bit nervous off the first whistle but credit the Lancers as it turned a five point deficit into a 12-12 tie off a Smith slam that was tipped out of bounds.
From that point, Southington went on a 9-2 run – taking advantage of a few Eastern miscues – to lead 21-14 and eventually pick up a 25-21 set one victory.
“We struggled in the beginning with our serving,” said Rivoira. “In that first game, we were just kind of flat and I think it took a little bit of time to get into the groove of playing against a team that was of such high caliber. I think they wanted it but to actually face it, was a completely different thing and they really needed to settle into their game.”
“I think we were able to do that for the most part.”
From there, Eastern shook off the cobwebs and took command of the second and third sets.
The Lancers posted a 9-3 edge in the second game as Southington never got any closer than two points the rest of the way.
Eastern won the set 25-19 off another ace by Smith and the match was afoot.
Again, the Lancers surged out strongly in the third set and off slams by Hubina and Cucka, Eastern’s lead was 13-6 and, again, the visitors never trailed from that point.
But Southington chopped the score to a single digit late in the frame on three separate occasions.
However, a quick tip over by Root – which was not returned – ended the set with Eastern a 25-23 winner.
The fourth set was a battle of epic proportions with the teams exchanging the lead eight times to go along with 17 ties.
Both teams did not lead by more than three points, with Eastern clinging on to a 17-14 edge midway through things.
The set was a 23-23 stalemate until Southington made a remarkable return off a shot that hit the ceiling. But Smith slammed it home and the Lancers were one-point away from victory in the match at 24-23.
It would not come to pass as Horanzy racked up two straight kills and off a non-returned serve by Danielle Kaminsky, the Knights escaped the stanza with a 26-24 win and the match was quickly tied at 2-2.
With the crowd buzzing, Southington drew first blood in the final set of the night.
The Knights led 3-1 early but saw its lead evaporate in the final set. But off along slam from Maryssa Romano, Eastern’s lead was trimmed to 7-6.
But the Lancers went on a game defining 6-1 jaunt and off a tip-over by Cucka and a miscue from Southington’s Caroline Berry, Eastern held an imposing 13-7 cushion.
Off a 5-0 Southington run – capped by an ace from Allison McCormick – the Lancers lead was plucked to 13-11 but that was as close as the home team could get it.
Off a bad Southington serve and a big Smith slam that was not returned, Eastern hung on to win the set 15-11 and took the match 3-2 in a very exciting showdown.
“No one can take away the fact that we won this game and I want us to enjoy that,” said Rivoira. “It was a really tight game at the end. We were fortunate to keep (Horanzy) on the back row because offensively, we were able to put some serves in and they made some mistakes with some key serving errors that hurt them.”
“It just came down to who would make the least amount of errors at the end.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE