NEWINGTON - The Newington boys volleyball teamâ€™s gauntlet of perennial opponents at the end of its schedule wasnâ€™t planned.
Originally, the Indians were supposed to travel to undefeated Southington earlier in the season before a change of plans landed the Blue Knights at the end of Newingtonâ€™s regular season slate, providing an end to a three-match stretch of Indians opponents that boast a combined record of 44-3.
â€śOriginally, we scheduled Southington as a back-to-back,â€ť head coach Curt Burns said. â€śBut due to unforeseen circumstances, it got pushed back. We didnâ€™t really want it that way, but it is what it is.â€ť
While the succession of tough tests wasnâ€™t planned, Newington can consider the schedule tweak to be a sufficient tune-up for the groupâ€™s ultimate goal: a third straight state championship in Class M.
â€śItâ€™s great training and great practice for the [state] tournament,â€ť senior Louis Egbuna said of the minefield at the end of the Indiansâ€™ season. â€śWhen the tournament comes, youâ€™re going to face all tough teams.â€ť
While the actual layout of Newingtonâ€™s schedule was improvised midseason, Monday nightâ€™s matchup with back-to-back Massachusetts state champion Westfield was a plan Burns put in place before the season started, and was pleased to see his Indians caught in a battle that had the feel of a state tournament match, as both groups battled for regional supremacy in an epic five-set affair that ended in a 3-2 win for the Indians.
â€śTheyâ€™re a great team,â€ť Burns said of the Bombers. â€śTheyâ€™re two-time defending state champs. I scheduled them because I wanted to test my guys. We got that test.â€ť
The test for Newington to close the season may be a bit tougher than Burns originally planned, as the final three opponents in Glastonbury, Westfield and Southington all present some of the best teams in their area, but sometimes a dogfight is better than a rest at the end of the regular season. When the state tournament starts, the Indians will have been in playoff mode for weeks already.
â€śItâ€™s always good to face the best of the best,â€ť senior Leonel Caceres said. â€śItâ€™s good because it gives us more experience entering states. Itâ€™s always good to come away from it with a win.â€ť
The first two games of the Indiansâ€™ late-season gauntlet resulted in victories, which bodes well for a team with big aspirations when the state tournament arrives. For a program that has claimed five state titles in the past seven years, the regular season can sometimes carry a mundane atmosphere, or a sense of purgatory while waiting for the matches that matter most. This season, Newington has taken advantage of an unplanned schedule to help better prepare for the challenge ahead.
The final week of the regular season has been anything but mundane, as the Indians have had to face off with their toughest competition so far this season, all in succession. Itâ€™s not how they drew it up, but itâ€™s been a valuable tune-up in their quest for a three-peat, especially when they walk away from it with victories.
â€śItâ€™s great,â€ť Egbuna said. â€śIt shows that weâ€™re up there with them, and that weâ€™re a top-level team.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org