Welcome to the 2015 Season

Girls volleyball: It’s doubly delicious for RHAM Repeats as M champ; Smolinski named MVP

By Sherman Cain, Journal Inquirer

mal-digNEWINGTON — As a junior, Kelly Stratton got to enjoy hugs and handshakes after the RHAM High girls volleyball team won the 2007 Class M state championship, the first ever for the program.

Stratton wasn’t so sure the same thing would happen in 2008. The Sachems graduated six seniors from the 2007 championship team. Yet here was Stratton on Friday night at Newington High sharing an embrace with Amy Canino, one of those graduates from the championship team of a year ago.

“Oh my God, this is absolutely amazing,” cried Stratton as she tightly hugged Canino following RHAM’s 3-0 dismantling of Jonathan Law of Milford in the Class M championship match. At the beginning of the year we had lost all those players and we didn’t know what would happen. We had a bunch of scrimmages and did well. We definitely started pulling together then. And we’ve gotten so much support, it’s absolutely amazing.”

No. 1 RHAM (24-0) beat No. 11 Jonathan Law (17-5) with scores of 25-18, 25-18 and 25-15. RHAM junior Tessa Smolinski earned Most Valuable Player honors, but it was Stratton who got the loudest cheers when individual medals were handed out after the match. Stratton, you see, is the only senior on the RHAM roster.

That bit of news is likely to send shivers down the spines of all coaches whose teams are in Class M.

With 28 consecutive wins under their belt, the Sachems appear to be in the midst of a dynasty.

“They are one of the best teams we’ve played, maybe the best,” Law coach Stacy Loch said. “RHAM came ready to play and they’re a really smart team. It was a good match and we tried hard to fight back, but we just didn’t bring our No. 1 game.”

The problem for Jonathan Law, which is 0-for-4 in state title matches, was that even if it had brought its No. 1 game and RHAM had brought its No. 1 game, the outcome would have been the same. The Sachems were clearly the better team.

If there was any doubt of that before the match, it was quickly dispelled when the Sachems, known for their slow starts, raced to a 9-0 lead in the first game.

The Sachems, remember, actually lost the first game in the semifinals to Griswold. That likely made RHAM fans apprehensive. There was no such apprehension on Friday night.

“My parents, everybody’s parents were saying, ‘Please, stay up in the first game and don’t scare us every time,’ ” Smolinski said.

Law did fight back, but the Sachems were never really in danger of losing the first game.

“The girls were very good and they were ready to go at 5 p.m. and our bus wasn’t even scheduled to leave until 5:45,” RHAM coach Tim Guernsey said. “When we got here the crowd was great and then we went out and did a phenomenal job.”

Smolinski’s versatility contributed to her winning MVP honors. She was 20-for-20 serving with 14 kills and 10 digs.

“It feels really good to be MVP,” Smolinski said. “No one else thought we could have this good of a team after losing six players. But we had good team chemistry. We played in summer leagues together and that definitely helped. I don’t know how many people thought we could do it, but we did it.”

Law had a glimmer of hope trailing only 20-18 in Game 2. That hope was quickly dashed when RHAM scored the game’s final five points. When it got to be 24-13 in Game 3, it was clear that the only thing that was uncertain was when t he celebration would begin.

“I knew we would be good this year, it was just a matter of how good,” Guernsey said. “This group works harder than any group I’ve ever had.”

Guernsey was particularly pleased with the play of junior Ellie Linden, who finished with 34 assists.

“Ellie was phenomenal,” Guernsey said. “She did a fantastic job. I know I screamed at her sometimes during the season, but not this match. She was great.”

Junior Chelsea Fenton had eight digs for the Sachems. Junior teammate Kelsey Welling added eight kills and six blocks. Junior Mallory Grosso contributed 11 digs. Stratton ended her career with six service points and three blocks.

As the gym began to empty Friday, tears and hugs were still quite visible among RHAM supporters. With every starter except Stratton returning next season, there figures to be some more tears of joy shed by the RHAM faithful next November.

Updated: July 28, 2009 — 8:59 pm

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