By MICHAEL LETENDRE
NEW BRITAIN – Only one volleyball team in the state posted victories against both Farmington and RHAM this year.
That team was the outstanding group from Bristol Eastern.
And while the Lancers dropped its final match of the season to the Sachems (25-13, 13-25, 20-25, 25-21 and 15-13), how much more could have been expected from the squad?
After losing the likes of Karissa Smith, Beth Cucka, and Jessica Hubina, who could have ever expected that the Lancers would be back and knocking on the doorstep of another state title tilt?
Eastern believed in itself and just about willed its way into the championship game.
Against RHAM, there really wasn’t much – outside of winning the fifth and final game and going back to the Class L Championship showdown – more Eastern could do in its final contest of the year.
The Lancers faced a challenge from the onset against RHAM and this was the rubber match between the two schools.
It was a long drawn-out, best two-of-three series that saw two even-steven matches plus a huge blowout in CCC Tournament play.
So, with the “series” knotted at one, the Class L semifinal showdown between the two schools from neutral ground at New Britain High School on Thursday, Nov. 14 was the rubber match.
RHAM opened the first set with a 25-13 victory but it was time for the Lancers to refocus and take the next set.
“We focus, do the simple things well and play hard,” said Rivoira. “There was nothing else we needed to do. We needed to get our serves in, keep (Sarah Veilleux, Class L MVP, 22 kills and 18 digs) in the back row (and) put our balls down.”
In the second game, the Lancers came roaring back with a 25-13 victory of its own and then off the power of several big kills, Eastern led 16-5 midway through the third frame.
But the Sachems started to put all the pieces into place and even as the Lancers racked up a 25-21 victory in set three, RHAM made a staggering comeback.
Veilleux made some huge kills in game four and quickly, the match was tied up at 2-2 and RHAM forced one, 15-point showdown for advancement to the final round.
“I think they out-hit us and we didn’t have answers,” said Rivoira of RHAM. “And that was a big game changer.”
RHAM took an early edge in the final game and never let up.
Eastern had cut the deficit to one on three separate occasions but trailed 14-13 late.
One final kill by the Sachems gave the team an unbelievable 15-13 win and a 3-2 victory, on its way to the Class L championship over Farmington.
“Obviously I would have liked to have won but it’s not like we didn’t try,” said Rivoira.
With the loss, a very special and trying season came to an end. But off the 21-3 finish, the girls of the Eastern volleyball team did everything it could to play one more game for its coach.
And the Lancers almost attained that match for its special mentor in what turned out to be a season of volleyball she wouldn’t have expect from to opening practice session.
“This is very special obviously with my mom passing,” said Rivoira. “I want the world for them obviously. They’ve given everything to me and if it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the fall.”
“They were the reason why I got through what I did (and) now I have to face the fact that my mom’s gone and it’s making this very hard.”
The emotion was all to real for Rivoira and her players and certainly jolted the tight-knit group after the loss to the Sachmes.
At points against RHAM, when it felt like the contest was slipping away from the Lancers, the Eastern girls almost willed their way back into the serve, into the set, into the match and almost into the finals.
The match ended the scholastic careers of Brooke Johnson, Kaylee Cruz, Cheyenne Orsi, and Kelly Quirion, along with captains Jenna Rodjenski, and Maggie Getler.
“They were just a special group of people that are very mature, that are very caring, that are very connected,” said Rivoira of her seniors. “They did everything asked of them every single day and more. They really were my strength and that’s a lot for them to carry when you’re a teenager.”
“They didn’t wavier.”
You can’t turn a blind eye to the season the Lancers had as all of the squads’ losses came at the hands of RHAM and Farmington – both teams who ended up in the finals in the Class L championship.
The measure of a championship is one thing but the measure of heart and determination Eastern showed against RHAM – and throughout the campaign – simply has no bounds.
Keeping this campaign in check was no easy task and the credit belongs to those two captains – Rodjenski and Getler, along with an amazing senior crew- as that leadership was so important with coach Rivoira dealing with some bigger than life elements on the sidelines with her family.
“I certainly couldn’t ask any more of Jenna and Maggie as captains,” said Rivoira. “I think they left everything out on the court every single day.”
There’s a bond that was built between coach and player that will never be broken and what this team did for Rivoira on and off the court can’t easily be put into words, even after the completion of the 2013 season.
“I just love them really so much,” said Rivoira. “It’s hard to describe but they just hold a very, very special place in my heart and I will be forever connected to them. I am very proud of what they did.”
“We’re losing six pretty classy people,” said Rivoira. “And we will certainly rebuild as we always do, as teams do. I just find it really hard to let go (of this year).”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE