Defeats Joel Barlow for 4th straight state crown
By Matt Buckler
GLASTONBURY — The RHAM High volleyball’s team’s march to its fourth straight Class M title was interrupted Saturday by a word from coach Tim Guernsey.
And they weren’t complimentary words.
“In the second game, he called a timeout and Coach got in my face, he got into Kara Trippel’s face and he got into Alicia Trippel’s face,” RHAM’s Chloe Rishell said. “He said our passing was terrible. We weren’t reading the ball.
“And we’re the type of players that when you start screaming at us, we’re going to start playing better.”
Apparently, a motivated RHAM player is a dangerous player. And a championship player.
RHAM overcame a dreadful start to defeat Joel Barlow, 3-1, in the Class M finale at Glastonbury High.
RHAM dropped the first game, 16-25, and was trailing, 6-0, in the second game before Guernsey delivered a fire-and-brimstone sermon to RHAM’s back-row players.
The message worked. RHAM rallied to win the second game, 25-22, racked up the third, 25-12, and then scored the final three points to pull out a 28-26 win in the fourth and decisive game.
“Once we started passing the ball better, we started getting some kills at the net — it all fell into place,” Guernsey said. “We couldn’t have played any worse in the first game. Once the kids realized that the only place to go was up, the girls relaxed. But we had to challenge them first.”
When RHAM started to get the ball to its playmaker, Laura Smolinski, closer to the net instead of in the middle of the court, RHAM’s offensive productivity started to flourish. She wound up assisting on 35 of RHAM’s 94 points — better than one-third.
“Maybe we were a little intimidated in the first game,” Smolinski said. “But after about 20 points, that intimidation wore off. Barlow had never beaten us before and that kept us fired up.”
Most of the heat was supplied by RHAM’s weapons at the net. Jocelyn Taylor had 17 kills and freshman Sarah Veilleux and junior Kelsey Kirkpatrick each had 10 kills. Once the net players were warmed up, there was little Barlow could do about it.
“Definitely that first game was a wake-up call,” Taylor said. “We were a little nervous. But we all know what this team is capable of doing.”
RHAM specializes in pulling out the close calls and the fourth game provided the perfect example.
Taylor’s bomb at the net gave RHAM the lead for good, and then Veilleux drilled home the championship winner.
Don’t ask her how she did it, however.
“The only thing that mattered is that we scored the point,” Veilleux said. “I don’t even remember what happened.”
After all, winning close games is routine at RHAM.
“That’s what we do,” Taylor said, “We work on those situations every day in practice.”
“We left everything we had on the floor,” said Trippel, who was named the title game’s Most Valuable Player. “We were hesitant in the beginning, but as soon as we figured it out, we played well.”
Even with just two seniors remaining from last year’s championship team, RHAM kept on buzzing.
“This was so satisfying,” said Smolinski, a junior. “We were part of last year’s championship, but we really weren’t in it because it was a senior team. This one is ours.”
RHAM just didn’t follow the tradition of last year’s team, they enhanced it with its gritty comeback.
“RHAM is good, they have an aura surrounding them,” Barlow coach Stave Antal said. “I think they missed one service, and we missed a lot of services. And those points added up quickly. You can’t give a team like RHAM free points.”
“It’s such an emotional boost when your opponent commits an error, especially in rally scoring, where every mistake means a point,” Guernsey said. “And everyone served well for us. We didn’t beat ourselves.”
That’s why the No. 1 seeded Sachems were able to finish the season with a 21-1 record, only losing to Tolland in the Central Connecticut Conference quarterfinals. Barlow, seeded No. 3 at 19-3, lost to RHAM in the finals for the second straight year.
This makeup of this year’s team, however, was completely different than last year’s champs.
“It was an emotional season,” Guernsey said. “I think I was tougher on this group than any team in the last few years. But the kids responded.”
Especially to a blistering pep talk that at least three players on RHAM’s back row never will forget.