SHELTON>>The Newington boys volleyball team stuck together all year and achieved the one goal it set out to achieve: A state championship.
The No. 1 Indians (24-1) knocked off reigning Class M champion Oxford (20-2) in straight sets, 25-22, 25-20, 25-20, at Shelton High School Friday night.
“It feels great,” Newington junior Jordan Aprea said. “We stuck together as a team. It feels great to do it with this group of guys.”
The Indians last state championship came in 2012, when they also beat Oxford.
From team pasta parties to joking around on the court, the Indians defined what it means to be a family and a team.
“I believe you prepare your team with practice and they’re prepared for anything,” Newington coach Curt Burns said. “I think we showed that today.”
Newington setter Riley McManus was named tournament MVP. He recorded 30 assists and eight digs in the finals.
“It means I have fantastic passers, it means I have fantastic hitters,” McManus said upon receiving the award. “They really made my job easy the entire season. There’s rarely a time where I have to move on the court, so credit to my passers and hitters.”
Jonathan Cloutier had 10 kills and just one error for Newington. Nick Hinchcliffe added seven kills. Libero Bret Sullivan had 16 digs.
Eric Jensen led Oxford with eight kills while Nick Orban and Josh Thorne each had seven. Ed Carver had 17 digs.
The No. 1 seed in the Class M tournament knew it would have its hands full with defending state champion.
“We matched up very similarly with them,” Burns said. “Almost player for player. We knew it would be a knock-down, drag out and to get it in three sets is a really nice feeling, because we know either one of those sets could have gone either way.”
The Wolverines, the lone boys volleyball program in the NVL hung with the class of the CCC the entire match, with each set being decided in the final five points.
Oxford held a 22-21 lead in the first set after a Jensen kill, but the Indians rattled off four straight points to take the first set.
“It is important to win that first one,” Burns said. “Because you’re never chasing them, they’re always chasing you.”
Again in the second Oxford had a lead and again, Newington battled back.
Burns called a timeout with his team trailing 10-7.
“We’ve been down in each of the rounds of the state tournament where we’ve been really close to losing a set, which hasn’t happened since May 7,” Burns said. “But we know how to battle through it.”
The Indians went on a 6-0 run to retake the lead and then didn’t give it up.
Aprea opened the third set with kills on two of his team leading 12 kills and Newington led 10-5, but the Wolverines didn’t go down easily.
After a few uncharacteristic errors from Newington, Oxford led 16-15.
An ace from Josh Metzger got the momentum back on Newington’s side and the Indians eventually had four chances to put the match away, but just needed two.
The Indians student section rushed the court one point early, settled back in and did it all over again, celebrating the team’s second championship in three years.