EAST HAVEN – Amity was the defending Southern Connecticut Conference volleyball champion and had beaten rival Cheshire twice in the regular season. But the aura surrounding the Rams — who had been in the SCC title game every year but two dating back to 1995 — is still formidable.
So when the Rams won Game 1 and raced to a seven-point lead midway through Game 2, there were some nervous looks among the Spartans, but not from newly crowned SCC Player of the Year Kathleen Walsh, who calmly started to take over the match and was soon joined by her teammates.
Top-seeded Amity rallied to take Game 2 and then took the next two to repeat as SCC champs with a 3-1 victory (25-27, 25-20, 25-18, 25-16 ) over No. 2 Cheshire at East Haven High School.
“We just needed to remember to play our game,” Walsh said. “I think coming in we were really pumped up to play Cheshire again because they’re Cheshire and every time we play them it’s a great game. We saw them in the SCC (final) last year and the year before. There was so much adrenaline that we just had to calm down and stay composed. After that, we were fine.”
The Rams (17-4) raced to a big lead in both the first two games, never trailing in Game 1 until Amity (20-1) nearly stole it with a late rally. Amity grabbed its only advantage at 25-24 before Cheshire ran off three straight points to take it back, the last two coming on a block and kill from senior Molly Michaud.
It was Michaud who started off Game 2 hot as well and Panru Jing’s ace capped a 4-0 run that gave the Rams a 15-8 advantage. But Amity sophomore Abby Harbinson had back-to-back kills in the middle and followed that up with a pair of blocks and, suddenly, it was 17-17. Then it was Wash’s turn in the front row and she had three kills in four points, including one cross-court that gave the Spartans Game 2, 25-20.
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Cheshire actually opened up a quick lead in Game 3. But a 12-2 run that featured four Walsh kills put Amity up 13-7 and they would not trail the rest of the night. Cheshire coach Sue Bavone searched the rest of the match for a combination that could slow the momentum, but never found it.
“We stopped really setting Molly (Michaud) in good positions,” Bavone said. “We were in a perfect position to put Game 2 away with her in the front row, but we didn’t. Once Amity won Game 2, their hits got a little harder and they had all the momentum. We tried everything. We practically emptied the bench, but we just couldn’t figure it out. They’re high school kids. It was a big, loud crowd and that’s going to happen sometimes.”
Two Harbinson kills finished off Game 3 for Amity, 25-18, and then the Spartans rolled off the first seven points of Game 4. Cheshire did make one final run to close within 15-13, but Walsh and her teammates were there with one final answer to bring home the title, 25-16.
“Kathleen is just a quiet force for us,“ Amity coach Seth Davis said. “If you lean on her, she just gets better and better and Abby was outstanding as well. It’s fun to be on top and all these girls have earned it. They worked hard every day, and they showed why tonight.”
Harbinson, just a sophomore, actually finished with one more kill than Walsh (17-16), with Walsh — who was also named Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament — adding 12 digs. The Spartans also got big plays from junior Brooke Matyasovsky (from the service line), setter Jaiden Williams, sophomore Olivia Pisano (who had a couple of big digs), and senior Jessica Ferraiolo in their runs in Game 2 and 3.
Now both teams turn to next week’s state Class LL Tournament where Amity will be the No. 2 seed and Cheshire sixth (the CIAC finals are also at East Haven High, so both would love to be back in two weeks). While the Rams have appeared in three of the last four state finals, winning in 2014, it’s been 13 years since Amity has been to a state final (they beat Fitch for the championship in 2003), a streak the Spartans would love to put to rest this month.