GLASTONBURY >> After a two-year absence, Coventry is back in the Class S state championship game.
The Patriots started fast then held off Hale-Ray 25-12, 25-13, 22-25 and 30-28 in the CIAC Class S state semifinals Wednesday night at Glastonbury High School.
The second-seeded Patriots (25-1) will meet No. 4 Lyman Memorial for the Class S state title on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 10:00 a.m. at Berlin High School.
The Bulldogs (22-2) rallied past top-seeded Seymour (22-2) in five sets, 14-25, 25-23, 17-25, 25-22 and 15-13 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
“It feels good,” Coventry coach Ryan Giberson said. “This is an under the radar group and I wasn’t sure where we would be. When the seniors were freshmen that’s the last state championship that we won and they’ve taken a lot of lumps because in our program to go 20-3 or something isn’t good enough, I guess. For most people it is, for us it’s not.”
Coventry captured 9 Class S state championships from 2003-2012, including seven in a row.
Yes, it took one of the state’s most storied programs to derail Shoreline Conference champion Hale-Ray.
“Obviously, Coventry is a very good team,” Hale-Ray coach Sue Miner said. “I just wish, because I know the way that these guys can play, we could have hung in there at the end.”
Coventry was led by senior Kayla Byram (22 kills), senior setter Abbie Zadrozny (35 assists), and junior Abigail Nodwell (11 kills).
Patriots junior outside hitter Mikaela Hartl made a number of huge kills down the stretch while helping the North Central Connecticut Conference champions rally from a 24-21 deficit in the fourth set.
“We just kept going to Mikaela. She had a great game,” Giberson added. “I don’t think that we have super superstars like we’ve had in the past although we have some kids that are getting close. We have a lot of balance and a lot of options and for the most part we don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Coventry built big early leads and cruised to easy wins in the first two sets. The Patriots were firing on all cylinders while the Noises appeared shell-shocked.
“Coventry certainly got us out of system in the beginning of the match,” Miner said. “But we also gave them a lot of points on our unforced errors, which is atypical of us, and that’s why I think we were a little off balance.”
The Patriots also raced to a 7-2 lead in the third set behind the play of senior outside hitter Brenna Marquis.
But the third-seeded Noises (24-2) rallied.
Powered by senior Andrea Wordell (22 kills), junior Sage Connors (10 digs, nine kills, four blocks), junior setter Mary Pease (32 assists), junior libero Kyra Vumback (16 digs), senior Leah Brownell (seven blocks), junior Aidan Fiala and sophomore Callie Burke, Hale-Ray captured the third set in stunning fashion, 25-22.
“We just had to stay focused and know that we’ve been in that situation before of coming back,” Wordell said. “We just had to play our game.”
The Noises faced another deficit (16-6) in the fourth set before mounting perhaps their biggest and most exciting rally of the season. Bolstered by a sensational service run by Burke, whose left-handed jump-serve gave the Patriots fits, Hale-Ray tied things at 19.
“They’ve always been a team that no matter what the situation is they continue to fight hard,” Miner said. “They’re super competitive and great under pressure and they don’t care what the score is. We started to pass a little bit better and we were able to run our offense because when we are able to execute our offense it is very difficult for other teams to stop.”
Hale-Ray led 24-21 and seemed poised to send the match to a fifth set. But Hartl blasted three huge kills, including two that the Noises couldn’t dig up from the back line, and Coventry regained the lead 25-24.
“Hale Ray is a great team and they’ve had a great year,” Giberson said. “You don’t win 24 games without having a great team and we knew they were going to be hard to put away.”
Tied at 28, the Noises missed a serve – Hale-Ray missed three serves with the game tied at 26, 27 and 28 – and with a 29-28 lead Zadrozny passed the ball to Nodwell, who found an open spot past Hale-Ray’s defense to end the match.
“I don’t even know how we won it,” Giberson said. “There were some pretty intense rallies. Our kids made a couple of better touches than theirs at the end is all you can really say.”
After defeating Morgan in five sets to win their first Shoreline Conference championship, Hale-Ray reached the semifinals by sweeping Coginchaug, Goodwin Tech and Oxford.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team the way that they’ve battled all season long and you saw evidence of that tonight,” Miner said. “We put ourselves in a hole and we fought our hardest. We just came up short in the end.”