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Month – November 2009

Volleyball: RHAM fights for perfect (25-0) finish

RHAM High girls volleyball player Kelsey Breault said her team is known for its comebacks.

It’s also known for something else — winning championships. Those two qualities came together here Saturday as the undefeated Sachems wrapped up a 25-0 season by winning their third straight Class M title with a 3-0 win over Joel Barlow. Game scores were 25-11, 25-22, and 26-24.

RHAM trailed Barlow, 24-20 in the third game when it calmly spurted off the final six points to settle the issue in dramatic style. If ever there was a time to examine the championship DNA of the Sachems, the closing stages of the third game was the perfect time.

“It’s just a matter of getting the job done,” RHAM coach Tim Guernsey said. “We don’t try to think about it too much. We just play.”

The final five points were served by Breault, who was a perfect 23-for-23 during the match.

“When we fall behind, our goal is to never let the ball touch the ground,” Breault said. “When I was serving, I try not to think about it too much. Basically, I just tried to serve it as hard as I could.”

Also supplying some firepower was senior Tessa Smolinski, who was responsible for three of RHAM’s final five points including the game winner, when she blow-torched a rocket that landed in the right corner of the court. She was named the Most Valuable Player in the championship game by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.

“Last year, I scored the last point, but it didn’t count because they said I was over the net,” Smolinski said. “This year when I saw the ball go in, I didn’t hear anyone cheering, and I said, ‘Uh, oh.’ But we got the call, and I was just so excited.”

Her shot was just the exclamation point of three incredible seasons compiled by RHAM’s senior class. Just consider these numbers: three straight titles, 53 consecutive wins, and RHAM lost only one game all season, going 75-1.

Even when RHAM trailed, 24-20, in the third game, there were no signs of panic. That’s because RHAM has faced the identical situation hundreds of times in practice.

“Coach has a simulated game and makes the score 24-20,” Smolinski said. “We have to score six points in a row to win. So we do it all the time in practice. Today, we did it in a match.”

Perhaps the biggest play down the stretch was made by Chelsea Fenton. Her dig with the score 24-23 led to a kill by Smolinski and kept the RHAM rally alive.

“I’m used to getting the ball hit hard at me every day in practice, so I don’t even think about it when the ball is hit hard at me,” Fenton said. “I knew we had it in us.”

The Sachems had it in them all day long. RHAM ran off 10 straight points in the first game, with all the serving done by Breault, to make an early statement.

The statement got louder for the No. 1 seed in Game 2 when kills by Kelsey Welling and Smolinski locked up the win.

Then came the amazing comeback in Game 3.

“We don’t do it on purpose, but when we make it exciting like that, it’s more memorable,” Guernsey said.

Here’s another reason why it was memorable — the senior class of Mallory Grasso (8 digs), Fenton (11 digs), Ellie Lindon (30 assists), Smolinski (12 digs, 13 kills), Breault (9 digs), Welling (4 blocks, 8 kills) and Alie Carlson (4 kills).

Throw in 11 blocks and four kills by junior Jocelyn Taylor, who covered the top of the net like barbed wire, and it’s easy to understand how RHAM pulled it off.

“Our seniors were part of last year’s championship, but it was Kelly Stratton’s banner,” said Guernsey, referring to last year’s senior leader. “This year, the seniors got their own banner. You can’t do anything unless you have a talented group. And this is a talented group.”

Steve Antal, coach of 11th-seeded Joel Barlow (18-5), agreed.

“They’re just such a disciplined group,” Antal said. “They cover the floor well and they all know their roles. And they have some powerful hitters from both sides. They know how to find the gaps.”

And win championships.

“The kids were phenomenal,” Guernsey said. “What you saw today is what we’re been doing all year.”

More accurately, for three years.

By Matt Buckler
Journal Inquirer

RHAM nets another Class M crown by Rich Zalusky

Tessa Smolinski had dreams about it on Friday night.
Dreams about how her final high school girls volleyball match at RHAM High would play out with the opportunity to close out her career with three consecutive CIAC Class M state championships.
“I just felt my heart pounding,” Smolinski said. “It was like we have to win and what a great way to end things. And I didn’t want to be crying afterwards when it was over.”
Those dreams came true.
Smolinski (13 kills, 12 digs) earned most valuable player honors for the second straight year as No. 1 state-ranked RHAM (25-0) completed its second consecutive undefeated season with its third straight Class M title, a 25-11, 25-22, 26-24 victory over 11th-seeded Joel Barlow (21-5) at Berlin High School.
The victory extended the state’s longest winning streak to 53 straight matches dating back to a loss in the 2007 Northwest Conference final against Farmington.
And for the Sachems to finish things off in a sweep, they had to rally from a 24-20 deficit in Game 3.
“It hasn’t even hit me yet,” RHAM senior libero Mallory Grosso said after the Sachems received their championship medals. “It feels like we just won a game. It hasn’t felt like we’ve won three straight state championships.
“That’s just ridiculous.”
RHAM had rallied from a 7-1 deficit in Game 3 and caught the Falcons at 10-10 before opening up a 20-15 lead on an ace by Chelsea Fenton.
It was about that time when the RHAM student section summoned the Sachem fans opposite the team benches to stand up as well in anticipation of wrapping things up.
Joel Barlow had other ideas.
First, senior Emma Cheal blocked Smolinski to force a side-out.
Eight points later, all on the serve of Maria Kokenos during a run that featured two aces and two blocks from Emily D’Alessandro, Joel Barlow was on the doorstep of forcing a fourth game with a 24-20 lead..
Trailing by four points during practice is nothing for the Sachems.
Coach Tim Guernsey uses that scenario frequently in practice, putting his first team down 24-20 on the scoreboard and making them find ways to put together 4-, 5- or 6-point runs.
Smolinski even remembered a time when they ended up pulling out one of those scenarios, 36-34.
Doing the same thing with the pressure of a state championship on the line is another thing entirely.
“Coach told us, ‘This is what we do in practice.. We can do it. We know we can,’ “ Grosso said. “I was very nervous. I didn’t know if we were going to actually make a comeback especially knowing that just one mistake on us would give them the game.”
RHAM immediately forced an error, putting senior Kelsey Brault on serve, down 24-21.
Smolinski followed with a kill, forcing a Barlow time-out.
The time-out didn’t stop the momentum.
Jocelyn Taylor won the next point for RHAM on her 11th block of the match and, when Ellie Linden (30 assists) set up Smolinski on the right side for a booming kill between two players, the Sachems had tied things up at 24-all.
RHAM moved to match point when Barlow hit a kill attempt out, setting the stage for Smolinski, who punctuated her MVP performance with her final kill off another set by Linden that landed perfectly on the sideline.
And once the RHAM bench and the crowd realized the referee signaled the ball in, the celebration could commence.
“The kids don’t give in or get nervous,” Guernsey said. “They have the same mentality every time and know that they’re good enough to come back no matter what the score is. They do it all the time in practice and it’s exactly what they did today.
“Not that you want that to happen, but on the biggest of stages they made things exciting and more memorable.”
It was Taylor, standing 6-1 in the middle, who presented an ominous presence that put RHAM in commanding position in Game 1.
Taylor had two kills and two blocks in a 9-point serving run from Brault as the Sachems built a 19-5 lead.
And with senior Kelsey Welling also making life difficult for Joel Barlow, her blocking prowess along with four kills down the stretch closed out things at 25-11.
“Whether people want to admit it or not, the first line of defense is the block,” Guernsey said. “It changes what hitters want to do on the other side of the net. Both Jocelyn and Kelsey, on the biggest of stages, really stepped up. They did a phenomenal job.”
The Sachems led by as many as four points early in Game 2, 11-7, but then Barlow caught them at 15-all in what became a see-saw affair.
Later, the Sachems crept ahead 22-19 before the Falcons made them squirm by winning the next three points to tie things up at 22-all.
Barlow had a chance to take the lead on the next point, but a set attempt hit the antenna on the side of the net.
What hurt even more were three consecutive service errors after forcing side-outs on balls that sailed long without RHAM having to make a play.
“You can’t do that, especially against a talented team like RHAM,” Barlow coach Steve Antal said. “You can’t give them three points in a row and get none. That hurt us in Game 2.”
Now, a third banner will hang in the RHAM gymnasium.
And for the senior group of Grosso, Smolinski, Linden, Brault, Fenton, Welling and Alie Carlson, what a way it was to finish off their high school careers.
“What people will remember when they see this year’s championship banner is our senior group,” Guernsey said. “Last year, with a junior-laden team, the 2008 banner reminds you of our one senior, Kelly Stratton. That was special for her. Now, our seniors have one of their own, even though they had a lot to do with all our accomplishments last year.”
“You can’t do what we’ve accomplished without having talented players. They work hard in the offseason, in the winter and summer. All the credit goes to them for their dedication. They knew what they had to do in order to get ready to play.”
For Grosso, she couldn’t have asked for anything more.
“This is the way you want to go out,” Grosso said. “Having an undefeated season and winning another championship. It was like the perfect ending.”

RHAM sweeps Barlow in volleyball final

RHAM wins 53rd straight match with sweep

Little did Barlow realize.

The Falcons were leading No. 1 seed RHAM 24-20 in the third game of the Class M girls volleyball final Saturday at Berlin High.

Normally that’d be a good situation for Barlow to be in, but it’s also the exact scenario that the Sachems practice routinely. So RHAM executed as it practices, reeling off the next six points, to win the final game 26-24 to complete a 3-0 sweep and secure its third straight state title.

“We simulate that sequence all the time in practice,” said Tessa Smolinski, RHAM’s All-State outside hitter and finals MVP for the second straight year. “Coach (Tim) Guernsey puts 24-20 up on the scoreboard and we play it out.

“If we lose we run sprints. We’ve gone in practice where we’ve gone up to 32-34 and won it out so we just stay mentally focused. We knew we could do it and we just finished.”

RHAM won the first two games by scores of 25-11 and 25-22. The Sachems, who finish 25-0 for their second straight undefeated season, extended their win streak to 53 matches.

“We don’t ever give in,” Guernsey said. “We don’t ever break or get nervous. It’s kind of the same mentality every time where we know we’re good enough to come back no matter what the score is. It’s something we work on in practice all the time.”

Barlow, the 11th seed which ends the year 21-5, actually led in every game, although their 1-0 advantage in the opener was fleeting. The Falcons trailed 9-5 before RHAM went
on a 10-0 run with Kelsey Brault scoring eight from the service line to extend the lead to 19-5.

The middle game was a back-and-forth affair with no more than three points separating the two teams from start to finish. Barlow hurt itself by serving the ball out of bounds on three straight occasions.

“You can’t do that, especially against a talented team like RHAM,” Barlow coach Steve Antal said. “You can’t give them three points in a row and get none. That definitely hurt us in Game 2.”

The Falcons rebounded in the final game, jumping out to a 7-1 lead on the strength of a monster kill from Caity Van Camp, who finished with 11 kills, a score off a Rachel Schenck block and four service points from Kate Bodurtha (eight points, 10 digs).

The Sachems fought back, however, taking the lead for the first time at 11-10. The teams were tied at 20 and again at 24 before a Barlow return went over the end line and then Smolinski (13 kills, 12 digs) blistered a kill through the Barlow defense for the final point.

Guernsey saluted the Falcons, who reached the final with wins over No. 6 Avon, No. 3 Seymour and No. 2 Sacred Heart Academy.

“They never gave up,” he said. “They never gave in. Right to the end they were fighting. I thought it was a good match.”

Van Camp, who thought the Falcons could have played better, maintained that Barlow wasn’t intimidated by RHAM’s reputation.

“After having to take out the 2, 3 and sixth seeds to get here, we put our mind to it that we had to do what we had to get it done,” Van Camp said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t push as hard as we could have.

“I think we were hot and cold. We had our moments where we had great runs. The third and second games were a lot better than the first. When we got rolling we were good and we thought we had a shot.”

By Dan S. Cohen
STAFF WRITER, The Connecticut Post

Senior All Star Game

Kelsey Welling, Tessa Smolinski, and Ellie Linden helped the “Black Team” defeat the “Pink Team” 3-2. Supported by Farmington fans cheering all of the black team on, the black team came back from a tough first game! Great show of fun, talent, and good sportsmanship. Congrats to all.

Colby Billhardt/Darien Laurie LaRusso

Lexie Broytman/Southington Richard Heitz

Katie Byrnes/Southington Richard Heitz

Michelle Carilli/Coventry Matthew Hurlock

Kate Centofanti/Greenwich Steve Lapham

Jennifer Escobido/NFA Bill Howard

Kastine Evans/NFA Bill Howard

Sarah Gorski/Darien Laurie LaRusso

Maddy Kalb/Staples Bruce Betts

Brianna King/Sacred Heart Academy Dave Alexandro

Erynn Miller/Bunnell David Jockle

Courtney O’Hara/Fitch Steve Banks

Lauren Ostafin/Avon Curt Burns

Coaches: Dave Alexandro/Sacred Heart Academy
Janet Giampaolo/Torrington


Sarah Beres/Ellington Mike Stiles

Megan Casey/Newtown Tom Czaplinski

Casey Dulin/Jonathan Law Stacy Loch

Jessica Frankowski/Farmington Laura Arena

Dianne Gan/Conard-West Hartford Kerry Roller

Ali Krikau/Fairfield Ludlowe Meghan Skelton

Ellie Linden/RHAM Tim Guernsey

Krystie Luczynski/Berlin Bob Tarigo

Carli Matrisian/Foran-Milford Julie Johnson

Mariah Roussel/Newington Jen Micowski

Tessa Smolinski/RHAM Tim Guernsey

Caity Van Camp/Joel Barlow-Redding Steve Antal

Kelsey Welling/RHAM Tim Guernsey

Coaches: Julie Johnson/Foran-Milford
Kerry Roller/Conard-West Hartford

Class M Volleyball: RHAM Wins Third Straight Title

With a 2-0 lead against Joel Barlow and his team down 24-20 in the third game and on the verge of losing only its second game all season — its first in the Class M tournament — RHAM coach Tim Guernsey called a timeout. But there was no need to panic.

“That’s something we’ve done all year. We don’t ever give in,” Guernsey said. “We don’t ever break or get nervous. We know we can come back no matter what the score is. It’s something we work on all the time in practice.”

The top-seeded Sachems (25-0) came out of the timeout and scored the next six points — the final one on a hit from senior Tessa Smolinski — to win their third straight Class M title on Saturday.

The 11th-seeded Falcons did their best to keep it close — taking the lead in every game — but the floor coverage of RHAM proved to be too much.

“They’re very disciplined and they cover the court very well.” Joel Barlow coach Steve Antal said. “They serve very well, too. They only served two out and we served seven or eight out.”

RHAM’s success was due in large part to the serving of senior Kelsey Brault, who went 23-for-23, including the final five that finished off the third game. Fellow senior Jocelyn Taylor made it hard for the Falcons to attack with 11 blocks.

After dominating the first game 25-11, RHAM was pushed much harder in the next two games. Barlow (18-5) kept the second game close when it tied the score at 22 but three straight points by the Sachems ended the threat.

While most of RHAM’s seniors have been on two state championship teams, this one is different. This is one they can call their own.

“It means so much to everybody,” Smolinski said. “Coming back from last year we felt a lot of pressure.”

Smolinski finished her career with a 13-kill, 12-dig performance and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

RHAM only lost one game this season — in the CCC final against Southington.

“Last year we had the same group of girls and we got everybody back and everybody works hard. We come in for six o’clock in the morning practices,” Smolinski said. “We had a lot of confidence. We just go for it.”

By KEVIN VELLTURO, The Hartford Courant

“RHAM Dominated the Scrimmage”

The one contest that everyone wanted to see, between RHAM, which won the Class M title prior to Darien’s match and jumped the Blue Wave to move into the No. 1 spot in the latest state poll, actually took place in the preseason.

RHAM reportedly dominated the scrimmage, which was not disputed by Sommi as she smiled when it was brought up.

“I think that motivated us,” Sommi said. “At the beginning of the season RHAM exposed so many weaknesses and showed us what we needed to work on.”

Asked what that was, Sommi grinned again.

“Weak serve-receive, serving, blocking, hitting, every single thing on the court we had some problem with. This showed us how far we’ve come.”

It was a road that ended at perfection.

Darien volleyball rolls to ninth straight state title
By Dave Ruden
The Stamford Advocate

RHAM looking to add 3rd Crown to its collection

She was just a freshman at the time and not really a part of what happened, but Tessa Smolinski remembers the last time the RHAM High girls volleyball team lost a state tournament match.

“We got a bye and then we got beat 3-0,” Smolinski said of the Sachems’ Class L second-round loss to Mercy in 2006. “But back then I didn’t how much of a big deal a state championship was. That was the first year I had ever played.

“Now, going out with a win would mean so much. We’ve been together for three years and to win it all again would be amazing.”

Since that loss to Mercy, RHAM has shown little mercy to its opponents. It has compiled a 71-1 record with 52 straight wins and back-to-back Class M titles.

The unbeaten and top-ranked Sachems will go for a Class M three-peat when they take on No. 11 Joel Barlow today at 1 p.m. at Berlin High School.

For seniors Smolinski, four-year starter Kelsey Welling, Mallory Grosso, Chelsea Fenton, Ellie Linden, Kelsey Brault, and Allie Carlson, it will be their last match in a RHAM uniform. All have played a key role in the winning streak.

While there’s a feeling of sadness that it will be their last time together, the sense of anticipation and excitement of what could be means much more.

“It’s been special,” Welling said. “I know it’s our last match, but what better way for it to end than with a state championship.”

“We’re all best friends,” she added. “We hang out together outside of volleyball. We’re in a lot of the same classes. The chemistry we have is so strong. When one is down we’re able to pick each other up.”

RHAM rolled to the Central Connecticut Conference East and CCC tournament titles in its first year in the league. The only game it has lost in 24 matches was in the CCC final against Southington.

And when Southington won that game, it acted like it had won a state championship.

But the Sachems are used to that kind of reaction because it occasionally happens even when they lose a single point.

“Sure it’s annoying,” Smolinski said. “But, really, if they’re celebrating it makes us want to hit the ball at them harder.”

RHAM (24-0) coasted into the Class M final four with wins over Bacon Academy and East Catholic, but got a semifinal challenge from No. 4 Jonathan Law.

It was another sweep (25-23, 25-19, 25-22) but the Sachems had to earn it.

“It was nice to play good competition and show what we can do,” Smolinski said. “I think the semifinal match is the hardest one to win. To win a state championship you have to get to the final first. And even if you don’t win you have a good feeling that you made it that far.”

Don’t get Smolinski wrong. Victory is all that’s on her mind for Saturday.

“We’re very determined to get it done,” she said.

Joel Barlow (18-4) is seeking its first state championship. The Falcons have lost in three finals, including to RHAM in 2007.

They opened Class M play with a sweep of Tolland and then rallied from 2-1 down in games to win at No. 6 Avon. They got to the semifinals by sweeping host and third-ranked Seymour, and reached the final by beating No. 2 Sacred Heart Academy Wednesday 16-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-13.

The Sachems, though, are only concerned about themselves.

“I haven’t seen Barlow play and I would have liked to see them play,” RHAM coach Tim Guernsey said. “But I honestly believe that we’re one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the state. So if we play like we’re capable of playing, play our game, I like our side.”

Like his seniors, Guernsey has mixed emotions as they enter their final match.

“They’re phenomenal kids,” he said. “I don’t want to let it go, but it has to come to an end.”

All good things, it’s said, do come to an end. A perfect ending for the Sachems is just one win away.

By Carl Adamec
Journal Inquirer

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