NEWINGTON >> One year ago when Newington played New Canaan in the Class M boys volleyball semifinals, Indians’ coach Curt Burns told his players that they needed to capitalize on their block if they were to win.
Newington posted 21 blocks, won the match and eventually won its third state title in four years.
Friday the Indians were matched up again with the Rams, this time in the quarterfinals. Burns reminded his players of the blocking success a year ago — and it continued.
Third-seeded Newington successfully converted 19 blocks into points as it swept 11th-seeded New Canaan — 25-22, 25-16, 25-19 — at Richard E. Rogalski Gym to advance to its third straight Class M semifinal and fifth in the last six years.
The Indians will play second-seeded Joel Barlow on Tuesday, June 7 at a time and place to be announced by the CIAC. Newington and Barlow met in the state final last season, a match Newington won 3-1.
“I like to quote Dr. King and say, ‘Been to the mountain top and seen the promise land,” Burns said. “My three captains were starters last year and they’re all back, so they know what it takes to be a state champion and now they have to help lead the new guys to that mountain top.”
But still two steps away from winning another state title, the Indians moved a little bit closer on Friday and made it look fun and easy.
“Whenever we have a block we have a lot of energy,” Owens said. “Whenever we have a kill we have a lot of energy. We just try to keep the energy up and the energy really keeps us loose and we also like to have fun on the court and keep laughing and all that.”
Andres Ithier-Vicenty led Newington with 10 kills, Dante Phillip had nine and Vinh Dau had seven. Setter Blake Mamaclay had 31 assists, five digs and added five blocks.
The big front line of Phillip and Owens contributed 11 of the 19 blocks and got a hand on nearly every ball that the New Canaan attackers sent over the net.
“When we got our block up it kind of changed up their hitting,” Owens said. “I think we didn’t allow them to do what they wanted to do, so that really helped us.”
The first set was back and forth with neither team leading by more than three until a tie at 21 when Newington got two kills from Dau and an Owens block to spark a 5-1 closing run to take the first set.
The second set was the most dominant of the three for the Indians. They had a .462 hitting percentage and took advantage of nine New Canaan errors. Newington closed on an 11-5 run to take a two set to none lead.
“One think [setter] Blake [Mamaclay] does well is diversifies out attack,” Burns said. “He gets everyone involved, the outside hitters, both of them. He gets our opposite hitter going, he goes some back row, the two middles. They’re very different, Pablo [Ortiz] is more of a finesse guy, where Dante is the bludgeon, the hard-hitter.”
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Playing with confidence and some swagger, the Indians to an early 9-3 lead in the fourth set and didn’t look back. Pablo Ortiz got in on the block party and as hard as Robert Hoover, Sean Berry and the Rams attackers could swing, they just couldn’t seem to find an open part of the court.
“They played well, blocked well,” New Canaan coach Todd Kress said. “They did a nice job of taking our outsides, put up a decent block against them. A lot of it was on our end, couldn’t take care of ball one. Missed too many balls on the end line and then couldn’t defend or pass.”
Hoover led New Canaan with eight kills and setter Ethan Chau had 23 assists.
Before the match, Burns was presented with a commemorative volleyball honoring his 200th career win on May 9 vs. Southington. Heading into the Class M semifinal the longtime Newington coach sits at 205 career wins.