By MICHAEL LETENDRE
PLAINVILLE – There might be a ton awards coming the way of the Bristol Eastern volleyball team once this year’s postseason is all said and done.
And on its way in what should be a lengthy state tournament stay, the Lancers picked up a little hardware for its ever growing trophy case on Saturday, Nov. 3.
You can now refer to Bristol Eastern as the CCC champions after the Lancers knocked off one of the state’s best teams in a 3-1 drilling top seeded RHAM from the Ivan L. Wood Gymnasium in Plainville.
RHAM, ranked number one in the tournament and is one of the top squads in all the state of Connecticut, won the first set of the evening.
However, from that point, it was all Eastern (19-1) as the squad showed poise, guts and determination to not only knock off the previously undefeated Sachems (19-1), but to post its biggest win of the season.
And Eastern certainly had a proud and excited head coach at the end of the draining match as the Lancers celebrated on the court when the winning point was tallied.
“I’m so excited,” said Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira. “It doesn’t matter how we won, it just matters that we won. I thought the girls played an incredible third game. I thought we were just in rhythm. We were doing everything we could to put the ball in the right places and it worked.”
And the contributions for Eastern came from all quarters of the court as the championship effort was truly a total team drive.
The trio of Lancer captains, Karissa Smith, Beth Cucka, and Jessica Hubina led the charge for Eastern once again.
Smith tallied 16 kills, 15 digs and went 14-of-15 on the serving front, Cucka collected eight kills and three blocks while the always tough Hubina racked up her usual quota of digs and went 22-for-23 serving.
The rest of the team followed suit as Cheyenne Orsi added 16 kills and placed the ball perfectly all over the court. Jenna Rodjenski helped to keep the ball moving and went 17-for-18 serving. Meanwhile gutsy Brianna Root pumped out a game-high 47 assists, added four aces, and was a perfect 13-for-13 at the service line.
“I thought our serving was particularly strong,” said Rivoira as Eastern only missed on three serves on the evening. “I thought overall, we served received particularly strong.”
And credit also belongs to the team’s younger core as well.
Brooke Johnson was near brilliant serving (18-for-18) while Maggie Getler was also flawless from the line (9-for-9) as the two athletes simply refused to get rattled during the fray.
With all the pressure of the evening, in front of a packed house and a sometimes hostile crowd, the Johnson/Getler combination came through with flying colors.
“Brooke did a nice job serving for us today,” said Rivoira of Johnson. “I was very proud of her. And Mags, her confidence has been shaken a little bit, but I thought that she really pulled it together for us and did what we needed her to do. She made some big passes when she needed to and it’s great for her confidence boost going into the tournament.”
Eastern seemingly got its hands on every ball hit on its side of the court and even when a play looked dead and broken, the champions found a way to make a quick return in a stirring effort.
For the Sachems, Sarah Veilleux had 22 kills and 13 digs. Katie Wood added 20 digs. Hannah Schmidt made 12 digs and setter Kelly Ryan had 40 assists.
RHAM has size, ability and some real punch to its squad and its all those elements that gave the Lancers trouble right off the bat.
“RHAM is a very strong team,” said Rivoira. “There’s a reason why they are number two (ranked in the upcoming state tournament). They have a lot of strong hitters. They are very well-trained players and we knew coming in, we were going to have to make the plays happen. It was going to be a tight match.”
The first set saw six lead changes and 11 ties but off a 16-16 stalemate, the Sachems went on a blazing 4-0 run to capture a 20-16 push and held on to win by three, 25-22.
“In the first match, it could have gone either way,” said Rivoira. “I thought RHAM had a little bit more control of the tempo of the game. But then in game two, three, and four – outside of the last group of hits where we had four errors in a row – I thought we just played a really clean game.”
During the second game, however, RHAM never tasted the lead as Eastern led from wire to wire.
Off an ace by Hubina, the Lancers picked up a 3-0 edge and the Sachems were behind the eight ball quickly.
Eastern led 7-1 but the top ranked team cut it to 12-11 off a slam by RHAM’s Carly Balskus.
But Eastern took off from that point – going on a 6-0 burst – and off an errant slam by Balskus, the Lancers picked up an 18-11 lead.
The advantage went up to eight points and even as RHAM tried to get into the set, Root netted the hit of the evening.
Leading 23-16, Eastern was getting into its set but off its second hit of the play, Root quickly tipped the ball over the net – in a surprise move – which totally fooled the Sachem’s defense as her kill made it 24-16.
One point later, the Lancers won it by nine and tied the match at one.
Down 3-2 in the third set, the game was delayed by an official for nearly 10 minutes – claiming Eastern made a substitution error – but during that break, the Lancers regained its composure and the game was afoot again.
From the point of the tomfoolery, Eastern used a 17-6 run to turn the one-point deficit into a 19-9 cushion.
Later on, Orsi collected yet another kill, RHAM made a gaffe and Rodjenski delivered a serve that was not returnable as Eastern gobbled up a 23-11 tilt.
The Sachems went on a 4-0 run to cut the Eastern lead to eight but off another Orsi slam and one last RHAM gaff, the Lancers won the set 25-15 and was one game away from the championship.
RHAM had its chances in the final game, taking an 11-7 edge before the Lancers put the game out of reach for the Sachems.
Eastern captured the lead for good off a 7-0 jaunt – which was capped by another ace from Root – and then off a slam, and later an ace by the powerful Smith, the Lancers were riding high at 21-16.
That lead would balloon out to 24-16 as another failed setup by RHAM put the Lancers one point away from the CCC title.
But RHAM made things interesting as a 5-0 burst cut the score to 24-22.
However, one final Cucka slam was not returned as Eastern began to celebrate and posted a 25-22 win in grand fashion.
“We knew they were going to get their kills,” said Rivoira of RHAM. “But we also knew we were going to get ours. I am so happy for them. They are deserving of this and it’s a great way to head into our (state) tournament.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE