Challenging end to regular season has Newington boys volleyball tested for state tournament

Published on Tuesday, 14 May 2019 21:11
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER

@ryanchichester1

NEWINGTON - The Newington boys volleyball team’s gauntlet of perennial opponents at the end of its schedule wasn’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 Newington’s regular season slate, providing an end to a three-match stretch of Indians opponents that boast a combined record of 44-3.

“Originally, we scheduled Southington as a back-to-back,” head coach Curt Burns said. “But due to unforeseen circumstances, it got pushed back. We didn’t really want it that way, but it is what it is.”

While the succession of tough tests wasn’t planned, Newington can consider the schedule tweak to be a sufficient tune-up for the group’s ultimate goal: a third straight state championship in Class M.

“It’s great training and great practice for the [state] tournament,” senior Louis Egbuna said of the minefield at the end of the Indians’ season. “When the tournament comes, you’re going to face all tough teams.”

While the actual layout of Newington’s schedule was improvised midseason, Monday night’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.

“They’re a great team,” Burns said of the Bombers. “They’re two-time defending state champs. I scheduled them because I wanted to test my guys. We got that test.”

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.

“It’s always good to face the best of the best,” senior Leonel Caceres said. “It’s good because it gives us more experience entering states. It’s always good to come away from it with a win.”

The first two games of the Indians’ 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. It’s not how they drew it up, but it’s been a valuable tune-up in their quest for a three-peat, especially when they walk away from it with victories.

“It’s great,” Egbuna said. “It shows that we’re up there with them, and that we’re a top-level team.”

Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or rchichester@newbritainherald.com



Posted in Newington Town Crier, Newington on Tuesday, 14 May 2019 21:11. Updated: Tuesday, 14 May 2019 21:13.