Above: The final point of the Class L semi-final between No. 3 Ledyard and No. 2 RHAM. Senior Angelica Czercowy gets the final kill of the match to send the Sachems back to the finals where they will meet familiar foe No. 1 Farmington. Derek Turner-GameTimeCT
NORWICH>> With the adrenaline flowing and every point meaning more than the last. Angelica Czercowy wanted the ball.
And she got it.
Tied 12-12 in the fifth set of the Class L semi-final between second-seeded RHAM (24-0) and third-seeded Ledyard (22-2), Czercowy was set the ball twice during the final three points and she put them both away.
“I wanted the ball,” Czercowy said. “I wanted to put it down and I knew that I had to get the job done. I believed in myself 100 percent.”
The Sachems return to the state finals for the second consecutive year and seventh time in school history with a five-set victory (25-21, 27-29, 25-18, 19-25, 15-12) over Ledyard at Norwich Free Academy on Thursday.
The final will be a rematch of last season in which RHAM beat Farmington in five sets.. The Sachems also defeated the Indians in the finals of the CCC tournament this year, 3-1.
Michelle Klinikowski of Ledyard, who this week signed a National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Boston College, was the best player on the court giving RHAM trouble all night.
The senior finished the game with 32 kills, giving her 537 to end the season.
But the one she couldn’t put away may have been the most important. Tied at 12 in the deciding set, Kaylee Danaher dug up one of the hardest hit balls from Klinkowski all night.
“That’s the reason your wearing that white jersey,” RHAM coach Tim Guernsey said. “To be able to dig balls up and that’s exactly what [Danaher] did.”
RHAM won the next point without having to play it. The Colonels were called for being out of rotation and just like that it was match point.
Czercowy took the pass from McKenzie Maneggia off a dig from Megan Heline and from the left side split the two back row defenders.
“Ang came up with the big swing at the end of the game after almost putting the ball to the wall from the right side,” Guernsey said. “So they finished the game. It’s something we’d been talking about all year long.”
There was no quit in either team. Ledyard saved two set points in the second set before winning 29-27 and then came back from a 8-1 deficit to tie it the fourth set. Klinikowski made four straight kills to get to game point before winning it for Ledyard, 25-19.
“They could have easily said, ‘Well, we’re done,'” Ledyard coach Rich Duwelius said. “But this team has no quit. I’ve seen them so many times come back, drag themselves back one point at a time, never giving up, never getting discouraged.”
This was the first five-set match RHAM had played since the Class L final last season. The Sachems are riding a 28-match win streak dating back to the 2013 CCC tournament when they lost to Bristol Eastern in the finals.
“She’s very, very good,” Guernsey said of Klinikowski. “I had never seen her play before. She put the ball pretty much where she wanted to put it. It was an advantage for us when she got to the back row.
“People told me all year long how good Michelle was and she’s definitely that good. She was definitely the best player on the floor.”
To beat a team like Ledyard you have to be strong on defense and Duwelius knew it when he saw it.
“Best defensive team I’ve seen this year,” he said. “They were digging a lot of very difficult balls. Got to hand it to them, they kept popping those hard hits up.”
Returning to the finals, RHAM has a chance to be the first repeat champion in Class L since East Lyme in 2010 and 2011.
“We saw the bigger picture in mind,” Czercowy said. “We have six seniors on our team and all six of us play. We knew it was our last game so in order to get to finals and win back-to-back. We knew we had to get the job done.”