Boys volleyball: Barlow finishes in state semifinals

Joel Barlow High’s Reed Wilkerson goes up for a kill as Newington’s Leonel Caceres attempts to block during state Class M boys volleyball semifinal match on Tuesday, June 6. Barlow lost 3-1 to end the season. — Rocco Paul Valluzzo photo

When one part of its game began to falter, it ultimately affected others for the Joel Barlow High boys volleyball team in the state Class M semifinals.

The top-seeded Falcons at times had trouble with their serve reception when they took on fourth-seeded Newington. As a result, the could not pass and ultimately hit the way they wanted.

Seeing this as an opportunity, Newington took advantage of the situation for a 3-1 (28-26, 11-25, 25-22, 25-18) victory on Tuesday, June 6, at Kennedy High in Waterbury.

The loss prevented a third straight trip to the title match for Barlow.

“For me the biggest facet was that when we couldn’t serve receive well enough to run our offense then we become a very bland and easy to figure out team,” said Barlow head coach Chris Lovelett, whose team defeated Newington 3-0 in last year’s semifinals. “When that happens then we just didn’t swing as well and our offense wasn’t up to par and that’s where we missed today.”

Both sides battled for supremacy in a back-and-forth first set. Barlow held a narrow 19-18 lead late before Newington responded, going up 22-19 on a kill by Nate Alleyne.

Barlow, however, battled back, tying it at 24-24 on the serve of Tom Lucido. Reed Wilkerson’s kill tied it at 26-26 but Newington held on for the win.

“We just felt like we made a lot of mistakes in game one,” said Lovelett. “They (Newington) played well but we gave away a lot of points.”

The Falcons temporarily righted themselves in the next set. With things tied at 7-7, a kill by Finn McCaffrey won back the serve. Senior captain Joe Drake then reeled off 11 straight service points helped by the net play of Matt Cruz as the Falcons led 19-7 and never looked back for the rest of the set.

“II thought that we came back around and played good ball because we really just took away those mistakes,” said Lovelett.We passed better. We weren’t giving away free points on serves but we did that in set one.”

Having evened up things, Barlow appeared to be making progress in the third set, jumping out to an 8-4 lead, which forced Newington to call a timeout. Led by McCaffrey, and Cruz at the net in particular, the Falcons held a 15-12 lead.

Newington then stepped up its play at the net from Andres Ithier-Vicenty in particular, as he tied it at 15-15 and Barlow later trailed 23-18.

“He had an outstanding game.” said Lovelett. “He’s certainly one who’s deserving of what would be the MVP.”

The Falcons did threaten, coming to within 23-22 on Austin Houser’s block, but back-to-back kills by Zach Harmon secured the win for Newington.

The final set was a one- or two-point contest for much of the way. With things tied at 8-8 Newington began to make its move, using a number of kills to outscore the Falcons 8-2. Barlow also faulted on a couple of serves and before long it trailed 22-14.

Several errors on Barlow’s part and Newington was at match point (24-17). It scratched on the next serve but Harmon’s kill secured the win for his team.

Barlow finishes the season at 18-5 overall.

“I’m so proud of these boys,” said Lovelett. “Their overall body of work is something to be proud of for sure.”

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