MIDDLETOWN >> Cheshire girls’ volleyball coach Sue Bavone likes to see her team get tested early in the year.
Well, Bavone and the Rams got their wish Monday night.
Cheshire, the two-time defending SCC champions, defeated Mercy, 25-12, 31-29 and 25-21 before a raucous crowd in Middletown.
The upset-minded Tigers had four chances to win game two but the Rams responded each time with some spectacular defense.
“I thought our defense picked up a lot in that game,” said Bavone. “It was one of those back and forth matches. No one was really controlling the offenses but the defenses on both sides were doing a great job keeping the ball in play.”
After a kill from Mercy co-captain Abby Nagy gave the Tigers a 29-28 lead, Cheshire answered with three straight points. There was a big tap-in by Eva Whelan off a pass from setter Sarah Rodgers that tied it at 29, the game’s 18th tie. Laura Heynen (five kills) and Whelan then teamed for a point at the net before Rodgers tapped one in for the 31-29 win.
Cheshire junior Jillian Haberli, who finished with 12 kills and four digs, made some key outside hits in that second game, while Maria Buzzelli spearheaded the defense with 16 digs.
“Jillian came up and got some big kills for us when we needed them,” said Bavone. “She played high level volleyball in the off-season and got some national team experience so it’s definitely helped her. She’s hitting the ball hard.”
Senior co-captain Grace Brodeur had 14 digs and seven 7 kills, junior Fran Basadonna had 14 digs, while Nagy collected 15 kills and 14 digs for Mercy (2-1).
The Tigers missed too many serves which proved costly, especially at the end of game three.
“I didn’t think we played terribly tonight,” said Mercy assistant coach Megan Rausch. “I thought we played well. We just need to execute those plays a little bit better and definitely get those serves in.”
Mercy head coach Sarah Kelley, who gave birth to a son on Aug. 26, returns from maternity leave some time next week. Kelley will be reunited with a team that gave last year’s Class LL finalists all they could handle in a game that will go a long way for both clubs.
“That second game proved that our girls have so much fight,” Rausch added. “They’re so relentless and they don’t give up in any circumstances.”
Cheshire, who lost to Darien in the Class LL finals last November, improved to 3-0.
“I just think it’s better for us to get out here and be tested early,” said Bavone. “It shows you what you’re made of. We came from behind and won that second game and we never gave up. Now we can point to that if we get into a late game in states and say, ‘Hey, we can go 30 or 32 points, whatever.’ The atmosphere was good. It was loud and it was a test, a mental and emotional test, and that’s a good thing.”