Abby Harbinson and the Amity Spartans had been here before: In the 2017 state finals, but unable to take that final step to the crown.
That’s part of what makes winning it all this year feel so good.
After falling one win short last year, Amity is now state champion after defeating Darien 3-1 in the CIAC Class LL girls volleyball final Saturday morning at East Haven High School.
No. 10 Amity, which lost to Greenwich in last year’s final, finishes the season with a 20-6 record, a state crown, and a feeling of satisfaction.
“All of the hard work we put in during the offseason and during the season was with this in the back of our minds,” Harbinson, who was named MVP, said. “The relief to finally have that goal accomplished is unbeatable.”
“Finishing up and being able to go the distance,” Amity coach Seth Davis said. “This time, we finally pushed it over the edge and it feels great.”
All of the sets were decided by three or fewer points, with the first two both won by the Spartans surpassing the 25-point mark. Other than in the fourth set, when Amity built a 10-0 lead only to have the Wave roar back with nine straight points, the two finalists were seldom separated by more than three points.
It’s Amity’s first state championship since 2003, while No. 12 Darien (18-8) was making its first appearance in a state final in four years.
Darien head coach Laurie Larusso gave much of the credit for her team’s achievements to senior captains Lindsay Bennett, Cristina Escajadillo and Gabby Highton.
“This is an amazing team for me this year and my captains,” Larusso said. “I can’t say enough about them. Their leadership and how they made our team a family is beyond words. I’m lucky to have had them as captains.”
As usual, Harbinson had a big game for the Spartans, leading the offense with 16 kills to go along with nine service points. Her fellow captains Olivia Pisano, a libero, and Amelia Taddei also had solid matches, with Pisano collecting six service points and four aces, and Taddei putting down five kills.
“She’s a leader on the court and off the court,” Davis said of Harbinson. “It’s also important that I have three great captains and they all work together to push hard. They look to bring everyone else up.”
Madeline Adzigian had seven service points and five kills, including the point which ended the match.
For Darien, Bennett had eight kills, 14 digs, and 16 service points, and was also serving during the Wave’s late rally. Escajadillo, the setter, had 25 assists, and Elaina Cummiskey collected seven kills, 11 digs, and 11 service points.
The Wave had a 15-11 advantage in the first set but the Spartans wiped that out with a 5-1 run to tie the score and then went up 22-20.
Darien responded, and reached set point at 24-23 when Hassana Arbubakrr put down a shot. Harbinson knotted it with a kill and, after Darien staved off one set point, Harbinson put the set away with a kill.
The second frame was a nailbiter, with Amity again taking a two-point decision, 26-24.
The Wave cut the deficit in half in the third set, scoring the final three points for a 25-22 win. A Bennett kill followed by an Arbubakrr block of Harbinson gave Darien match point, and a strong hit be Bennett glanced off a blocker and hit the floor for the Wave win.
In the fourth frame, Amity was dominating at 23-13 and seemed poised to put it away easily, but Darien scored nine consecutive points to close the gap to 23-22.
The Spartans regrouped and took the next two points, with Adzigian’s kill ending it and causing a wild celebration on the court.
“I’m not going to lie, that was probably one of our biggest challenges of the year,” Arbinson said. “Knowing we were so close, but we still had to stay humbled and we had to stay grounded. It was a good reality check and the ability to pull back from it and come back to earth was good.”
“Amity’s a very good team and they have a lot of good hitters,” Larusso said. “I think part of it was them and they could generate an offense, and the other part was we’ve had to battle to get here. We did a lot of five-game matches and four-game matches all the way here. We have a lot of heart and a lot of pride and that’s what you saw today.”
For Harbinson and the graduating seniors, this season has been a team effort, a factor which was on display Saturday.
“Team work,” Harbinson said. “It’s so cliché, but the connection that we’ve had has been building over the course of the season. We were a different group when we had that challenge at the start of the season but we’ve grown and this morning showed that.”
Class L Girls Volleyball Championship
AMITY 3, DARIEN 1
DARIEN 25 24 25 22—1
AMITY 27 26 22 25—3
Darien: Lindsay Bennett 8 kills, 14 digs, 16 service points; Cristina Escajadillo 25 assists, 6 digs; Elaina Cummiskey 7 kills, 11 digs, 11 service points. Amity: Abby Harbinson 16 kills, 9 service points; Madeline Adzigian 5 kills, 7 service points; Olivia Pisano 6 service points, 4 aces