By MICHAEL LETENDRE
The odds were certainly stacked against the Bristol Eastern volleyball squad come tournament time this past September.
Talk about competition, the Class L state tournament bracket was loaded from top to bottom and RHAM (23-2 overall) was the tournaments No. 1 seed while the likes of Fitch (No. 2, 18-1 regular season), Torrington (No. 3, 20-3 overall) and state contender Joel Barlow (No. 4, 16-2) all could have been worthy champions.
Then there was Farmington (No. 5, 18-4 overall) and Eastern (No. 6, 19-4) of course in that possible championship mix.
And then there was this sleeper school, Platt of Meriden, who was hanging around the tournament at the No. 7 slot – carrying a regular season ledger of 16-3, which included a 3-2 match loss to the Lancers – but was rolling to end the campaign
The Panthers won five of six matches to complete the regular season, the only loss coming to Farmington in a 3-1 defeat.
But from there, it was all Platt.
The Panthers won the Central Connecticut Conference Tournament, getting passed RHAM in the final, three sets to one, and then had to run the gauntlet to collect the state championship.
In all, Platt went 24-3 and was crowned Class L champions.
The Panther defeated East Lyme (3-0), No. 2 Fitch (3-2), Bristol Eastern (3-2) and finally, sank RHAM one more time in a 3-1 demolition to take the state title once again – the squad’s fifth championship in the sport and the first since 1990.
The bout between Platt and Eastern in the semifinals went the distance, all five sets, and was another classic between the schools.
There was plenty of championship history between the Lancers and Panthers, stemming from when Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira – then Stacy Mills – was the crafty setter for the Bristol outfit.
The Lancers battled Platt in both 1987 and 1988 for the Class M titles.
Eastern swept Platt in 1987, 3-0, while a year later, it was the Panthers winning it three sets to one.
The bottom line in 2015 was the bracket in Class L was stacked and for Eastern, who had an amazing season, making yet a fifth consecutive semifinal appearance, the campaign was a success.
Sometimes, it’s the luck of the draw and this time around, it was simply Platt’s turn.
And when Platt finally was able to turn away Eastern (25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 17-25 and 15-11) on Nov. 19 from Sport Medicine and Sciences Academy from Hartford, seven outstanding seniors saw their scholastic career conclude for the Lancers.
At 19-4, Eastern was again a top Class L challenger and the squad proved it all season long.
Credit belonged to a three-pack of experienced captains: Megan Gettings, Angela Daley and Bailey Wyrebek.
Daley (277 kills, 59 aces, 151 digs) and Gettings (233 kills, 55 aces, 133 digs), the top duo on the squad in kills, were tough when collecting kills from the outside hitting position while Wyrebek (336 digs) was the defensive guru of the squad.
Wyrebek was the team’s last link to the 2012 Class L championship as a freshman and she was able to get court time during the state tournament.
Against Fitch in a Class L semifinal event against RHAM, she was tasked to get into the match and did an incredible job in dropping serves over the net in a pressure packed situation.
Wyrebek made so many big plays from the back line
Lover her final three years as the squad’s liberio and simply pulled out big dig after big dig for the squad.
But that trio of seniors didn’t do it alone.
Fellow senior Chyna Barrett (133 kills) showed her grit and energy all season long as a middle hitter while Paisley Tucker (75 kills, 13 blocks) showed glimpses of her power game, making kills and blocking shots along the way.
Kamryn McLaughlin also gave the squad invaluable minutes from the middle position over the scholastic campaign while Brittany Solleck also contributed as well.
Over the past four seasons – just like the senior class did the year before – Eastern did not lose a single match in CCC South action.
From 2012-2015, Eastern went 50-0 in CCC South tilts and were once again the champs of its division for four straight seasons.
This past year, the Lancers were 8-0 in CCC South Blue Division action.
One match, the loss to Platt in the state tournament, cannot define Eastern’s successful season but if you truly look ast who the Lancers lost to, those losses were to the cream of the CCC crop.
Eastern’s senior core leaves a tradition of excellence and it’s the hope that a strong junior class, consisting of setter Jessica Kenney (697 assists, 50 aces, 60 digs), middle hitter Mikayla Martin (69 kills, 50 aces), setter and defensive wiz Hannah Langlais (72 digs), along with Sam Bender, Allie Anulewicz and Liz Guilmette will pick up the ball and lead the Lancers back to the Class L tournament fray and, hopefully, complete a deep tournament run.
Here’s a look at the season that was for Bristol Eastern:
Regular Season – 2015
Friday, September 11 vs. Rocky Hill 3-0
Wednesday, September 16 at Middletown 3-0
Friday, September 18 at New Britain 3-0
Monday, September 21 at Newington 3-0
Thursday, September 24 vs. Glastonbury 3-2
Monday, September 28 at Plainville 3-0
Wednesday, September 30 at Platt 3-2
Friday, Oct. 2 at Bristol Central
Monday, Oct. 5 vs. Wethersfield
Wednesday, Oct. 7 vs. New Britain 3-0
Friday, Oct. 9 vs. Newington
Thursday, Oct. 15 vs. Farmington 2-3
Monday, Oct. 19 vs. Maloney
Wednesday, Oct. 21 vs. Berlin 3-0
Friday, Oct. 23 at Wethersfield
Monday, Oct. 26 vs. Bristol Central
Wednesday, Oct. 28 at RHAM 1-3
Friday, Oct. 30 at South Windsor
Central Connecticut Conference Tournament – 2015 – Second Round
Wednesday, Nov. 4 vs. Glastonbury 0-3
Class L, State Tournament – 2015
Thursday, Nov. 12 vs. No. 11 Edwin O. Smith 3-0 W
Saturday, Nov. 14 vs. No. 14 Avon 3-0
Thursday, Nov. 19 vs. No. 7 Platt 2-3