Cheshire caps unbeaten season with Class LL volleyball championship

(Peter Casolino — New Haven Register) The Cheshire bench and crowd celebrate a point during the second set over Staples during the CIAC Class LL Championship Volleyball Championship game.

(Peter Casolino — New Haven Register) The Cheshire bench and crowd celebrate a point during the second set over Staples during the CIAC Class LL Championship Volleyball Championship game.

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(Peter Casolino — New Haven Register) Cheshire’s Jillian Haberli spikes over Staples Makaela O’Kelly during the second set during the CIAC Class LL Championship Volleyball Championship game. pcasolino@NewHavenRegister

BERLIN >> At the beginning of the season, Cheshire coach Sue Bavone challenged her Rams to win three championships this year. After capturing the first two — the Southern Connecticut Conference Housatonic Division and SCC crowns — the Rams completed the trifecta on Saturday.

Maria Buzzelli had 21 digs, three aces and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player as top-seeded Cheshire defeated second-seeded Staples 3-1 (24-26, 25-17, 25-15, 25-17) in the Class LL championship. Cheshire capped a perfect 27-0 season and erased last year’s memory of a 3-0 loss to Darien in the final.

“Last year we came into the tournament with a mindset that we were just happy to be there,” Bavone said. “This year we came in with a much different mindset. Our mindset was we deserved to be here and we have some unfinished business.”

In last season’s final, Cheshire’s team bus never showed up and the Rams carpooled to the game.

Luckily for Cheshire this season, their transportation plans played out as smoothly as the match did.

“That was the first thing we said, at least we have a bus this year,” said Bavone, with a laugh.

Staples coach Jon Shepro said the Wreckers did all they could and he’s proud of his girls’ effort.

“What a great group of girls,” he said. “We got here, we had great time. We just got beat by a good Cheshire team.”

Sarah Rodgers finished with 32 assists and 10 digs for the Rams. Jillian Haberli added 18 kills, and Rebecca Ligi had 12 kills.

“We all played well,” Buzzelli said. “I couldn’t even pick an MVP out of this group.”

The Rams did start slow however, dropping its first game since a Nov. 7 second round 3-1 triumph over Norwich Free Academy. Staples trailed 23-20 before storming back to win 26-24. After a flat start in last season’s final cost them the championship, Buzzelli was not about to let history repeat itself.

“I told (my teammates), ‘don’t get down on yourselves, we’ve got the next one. Just go out there and play Cheshire volleyball,’” she said.

Her teammates listened, and the Rams came out hot in the second game, taking a 15-10 lead. The Wreckers forged another comeback, getting as close as two with the score 16-14, but the Rams fought back and went on a 9-2 run to close out game two and force a pivotal game three all knotted at one.

The momentum swing carried over into the third game, where the Rams led 12-7 early. The closest the Wreckers could get it was 12-10 before Cheshire took off and won 25-15.

Game four played out a lot like three, Staples opened with a small lead, Cheshire rallied and took the it back and then closed strong. Staples led 5-1 before Cheshire came back and opened up a lead 10-point advantage at 23-13 en route to the victory and the third championship the Rams set out to win.

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