Newington boys volleyball holds off Westfield (MA) in epic showdown of defending state champs

Published on Monday, 13 May 2019 21:33


NEWINGTON - The Newington volleyball team had been there before, and it didn’t want to experience it again.

Two weeks removed from blowing a 2-0 lead to Southington for their first loss of the season, the Indians watched a 2-0 advantage over back-to-back Massachusetts state champion Westfield wither to a 2-2 tie. Having lost momentum, Newington needed a spark.

The Indians received one from two of their trusted seniors on Senior Night.

Teddy Fravel picked up two crucial blocks to give Newington a lead in the fifth set, and Louis Egbuna kept a Bombers kill attempt alive to set up his own match-winning kill, and the Indians avoided disaster with a 3-2 win, as the battle between a pair of two-time defending champs lived up to its billing Monday night.

“It had a pattern,” Newington head coach Curt Burns said. “The fourth set kind of got away from us, but I think it was big that we showed some life at the end of that set. It carried over into the fifth set.”

After looking like the dominant team through two sets, the Indians let the Bombers claw back into the match and set up the potential for a deflating sequel to the Southington loss, but a quick start in the fifth set following signs of life in the previous game salvaged the thrilling match.

“We said, ‘don’t let the same thing happen as Southington,’” setter Leonel Caceres said. “They fought back, but in the fifth set it was a whole new game, and I’m just glad we got the job done.”

Kills by Jacob Baclawski and Mason Romano helped Newington build a 5-2 lead in the decisive set. After Westfield responded with two straight points, Fravel recorded back-to-back blocks to push the lead back to three. Still, the Bombers battled, tying the set at 10 before Newington called a timeout.

A Romano kill out of stoppage helped the Indians reclaim the lead, and a huge block by senior Riley Miller later in the set put Newington on the cusp of evading disaster. A kill by Egbuna made sure history wouldn’t repeat itself.

“It was a relief,” Egbuna said. “Although they got two in a row, we were able to finish it off.”

Newington held a 4-3 lead early in the first set, but the Bombers ran off four straight points to take a 7-4 lead, overcoming a pair of early service errors. An Egbuna kill stopped the Westfield run, but the Bombers answered back with three straight points, including a block by Ryan Rix on a vicious kill attempt by Fravel, to take a 10-5 advantage and force a timeout from Burns.

Egbuna picked up another kill out of the timeout to pull the Indians within four, and Westfield’s fourth service error of the set later pulled Newington within 17-15. With Egbuna serving, the Indians rallied for two straight points, the latter a kill by Fravel, to tie the set at 17. An unforced error on the ensuing volley gave Newington its first lead and prompted a timeout from Westfield.

The Bombers tied the set out of the timeout, but they needed another stoppage minutes later after a big block from Miller put Newington ahead 21-19. Following the timeout, the Indians’ front line stood tall again, as blocks by Miller and Romano, followed by a kill by Baclawski, gave Newington its largest lead of the set at 23-19.

A service ace by Baclawski sealed the set victory for Newington, which had quickly erased a sluggish start after a well-placed timeout from Burns, who watched his team look like the more superior state champ through two sets with 25-20 and 25-17 wins.

“We came out strong,” Egbuna said. “But they started their momentum. We knew it was going to be a dogfight.”

After fighting off a furious Bombers rally, which the Indians just lost 25-22 and 25-21, Newington locked up the No. 1 spot in the Class M state tournament and feels much better about its fate once the tournament arrives, having taken down a state powerhouse from its northern neighbors.

“This was big, testing ourselves against a top team like this,” Burns said. “It was definitely a test, and we passed.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, Newington on Monday, 13 May 2019 21:33. Updated: Monday, 13 May 2019 21:36.