CHESHIRE >> The Cheshire boys volleyball team is king of the Southern Connecticut Conference court once again.
The top-seeded Rams continued their dominance with a 3-0 victory over No. 2 Xavier of Middletown in the title match Thursday evening, rolling to victory by scores of 25-16, 25-13 and 25-21.
Cheshire (17-3 overall) has won four straight SCC titles and five of the last six. The last four have been delivered decisively with 3-0 victories in the championship game.
Hard-hitting senior Ted Li led the Rams at the net with 11 kills, five blocks and two digs to earn tournament MVP honors while senior Trent Hager collected 25 assists
Xavier, which advanced with a 3-2 victory over Shelton in the SCC semifinals, fell to 12-7 overall.
“It feels really good to know we as seniors were able to win this all four years we were here,” Li said. “We’ve been playing on and off together for a long time. We’re really tight as a group, so this is a great accomplishment.”
It was the third time Cheshire won the crown at the hands of Xavier since 2009 and the fourth time the Rams have won the title after going 8-0 during the regular season in the SCC. The Falcons defeated Cheshire in the 2010 title match in a rivalry that seems to grow more intense every season.
Cheshire keeps getting better as well.
“One thing we’ve always strived for is to be consistent and to be in the hunt and have people either talk or worry about us,” Cheshire head coach Sue Bavone said. “I think winning four in a row really speaks to that consistency.”
Cheshire was stronger at the net behind Li senior Colin Haensel (eight kills, six blocks), senior Patrick Lindner (five kills), senior Anthony Carbone (four kills) and senior Greg Zane (six kills) and way more consistent on the serving line behind junior Dan Ward (11 points) and Hager (10 points).
But what really put Cheshire over the top was its ability to play defense. The Rams displayed great passing at the net and would simply not let Xavier’s front line get the ball on the ground with Ward, Hager and senior captain Eric Cusano making dig after brilliant dig.
“I’m a defensive-minded coach,” Bavone said. “That’s sometimes lost in the boys game, but we’ve always felt that defensive wins championships. If the ball doesn’t hit the floor you always have a chance. That’s always been our staple.”
Xavier led by four early in the first set and held a 15-14 advantage behind the play of Ryan Garafalo, John Burbon and Andre Zumerchik (four kills, two blocks) at the net. But Cheshire rattled off nine unanswered points behind the serving of senior Trent Hager to take a 23-15 lead. The Rams finished it off three points later, getting a couple of booming kills by Li.
It was defense that kept Cheshire close in the first game and eventually allowed the Rams to take total control.
“That’s something I know they pride themselves on,” Xavier head coach John Post said. “Every time we made a run or made a move for one, they were picking it off the floor. They’re a great program and it was a complete effort by them.”
Cheshire controlled the second set from start to finish, jumping out to a 6-1 lead with Dan Ward serving. Xavier pulled to within 9-7, but Cheshire rattled off seven straight, including an ace by Haensel, then finished it off with six unanswered points and a kill by Li.
The third set was the tightest and most competitive of the three, but Cheshire led early – 4-1 and 7-3 – and never trailed or lost control.
The Rams will look to continue their momentum in the Class L state tournament. Cheshire is ranked fourth in the field.
Xavier will also be one of the top teams in Class L.