CHESHIRE >> Once the serve from Amity’s Brianna Mirmina sailed long to give Cheshire the win Saturday night, the storied history of Amity girls volleyball coach Paul Thees came to a close.
Once the serve from Amity’s Brianna Mirmina sailed long to give Cheshire the win Saturday night, the storied history of Amity girls volleyball coach Paul Thees came to a close.
After 31 years of coaching, including seven trips to the CIAC state finals and four championships, the legendary coach has called it a career.
For Thees and the Spartans, they were looking to extend the run another week, but Cheshire would not allow it. Dominating from start to finish, No. 1 seed Cheshire easily defeated No. 8 Amity 25-9, 25-17 and 25-19 in the Class LL state quarterfinals at Cheshire High.
“They took it to us right from the first game,” a misty-eyed Thees said. “They are obviously a very good team. I was hoping we could pull it out. The window got a little closer, then it got bigger. It got closer again, but we never closed it. I knew it was not in the cards after watching Game 1 and Game 2.”
Thees also coached at North Branford and Trumbull.
The Rams, who beat Amity three times this season, advance to the Class LL semifinals where they will play No. 5 Fairfield Ludlowe, a 3-2 winner over Darien, Thursday evening at Trumbull High at 7 p.m. Amity concludes its season with a 19-6 record.
“We play Fairfield Ludlowe and I am sure they will be just as motivated,” Cheshire coach Sue Bavone said after her team improved to 24-0. “We knocked them out last year. Right now, it really just is you play whoever you play. It is survive and advance.”
The Rams were never in survival mode in the quarterfinal contest, riding the dominant play of seniors Rebecca Ligi, Eva Whelan and Laura Heynen. All three dominated on the offensive side, combining for 26 kills, but it was their defense and the team as a whole which stifled the Spartans.
“Our defense was phenomenal,” Ligi said after finishing with 10 kills and two blocks. “Overall, we are a very well-rounded team on offense and defense. If someone is not doing it, we know someone else will. We do not rely on one person.”
The Rams set the tone for the match right from the start, using a pair of kills by Jillian Haberli and two more by Ligi for a 6-3 lead. Whelan added two more kills as Cheshire led 11-4.
Thanks to the Cheshire defense, Amity never got in synch. The first game was a clear indicator of this as Amity never had an extended stay at the service line and two kills by Jill Howard and another by Sarah Rodgers gave the Rams a 17-8 lead.
“We talk about how we need to get better,” Bavone said. “This a great group of seniors. They want to play. Last year is motivation. They know what they have to do.”
The Spartans battled in the second game, but the result was the same. Kills by Amanda Vecchio and Allison Denny had Amity within 7-6, but the front row of Cheshire was too much as Amity was never given an opportunity to spread its offense.
Two aces by Heynen gave Cheshire a 16-10 lead and two more kills by Heynen sandwiched one by Denny for a 23-17 Cheshire advantage in the second game.
After falling in the finals last season to Darien, Cheshire made sure it was going back to the semifinals despite a late run by the Spartans in the third game. Trailing 5-3, Cheshire used its blocking and its power to go on a 13-0 run to win the game.
With Maria Buzzelli serving and adding a pair of aces, Whelan started the run with a kill and a block, and Ligi added a kill. A kill by Denny and an ace by Vecchio capped a 10-3 run by the Spartans to get within 19-15, but Cheshire never let Amity get closer than five points the rest of the way.
“Coach tells us we have three seasons,” Ligi said. “We have our regular 20-game season, then we wipe the slate clean. Then we have a new season with the SCC tournament and then the states. We have a clean slate. Right now, we are 2-0.”
Denny finished her brilliant high school volleyball career with 15 kills and two aces. Kathryn Pisano had 18 assists, Vecchio was 8-for-8 serving with two aces and two kills and Julia Bedini had eight digs and was 6-for-6 serving for the Spartans.
Whelan had nine kills and three blocks, Howard added nine kills and four blocks and Buzzelli had eight digs and four aces for the Rams. Rodgers was solid with 26 assists and Heynen had seven kills, three digs and three aces.