It was late in Game 2 with the score knotted at 24-all when RHAM girls’ volleyball coach Tim Guernsey turned to his assistant Shaun Keane.
Guernsey had a feeling whoever won Game 2 would win the match because it was so emotional and so tense.
After saving two set points, RHAM was unable to come through on the third as East Lyme evened up the match at one game each with a 27-25 victory.
What was the message Guernsey gave to his team in the five-minute break before Game 3?
“We needed to make sure that we came out a little more energetic and a little more enthusiastic,” Guernsey said. “We needed to keep the pressure on early.
“And I just hoped what I was feeling — in regards to the outcome of Game 2 — didn’t turn out that way.”
For RHAM, things would turn out the right way as afternoon turned into evening Tuesday.
Laura Smolinski finished with 32 assists and Alicia Tripoli would finish things off with an ace on match point as 4-time defending Class M state champion RHAM (5-0) defeated last year’s Class L champion East Lyme (4-1) 25-23, 25-27, 25-19, 25-15.
“This was a great win against a great program,” Guernsey said. “We still have a lot of work to do and can’t have any letdowns along the way.”
RHAM and East Lyme will both play in Class L when state tournament time comes around.
The Sachems began to seize control of the match with a 4-point run late in Game 3 that opened up a 22-16 advantage with sophomore Sarah Veilleux (16 kills, 6 digs) and senior Kelsey Kirkpatrick (6 kills, 7 digs) providing book-ending kills.
Veilleux put away several eye-opening swings throughout the match, including one that landed between three players to close out Game 3, 25-19.
“Sarah just pounds the heck out of the ball,” Guernsey said. “She’s a lot more confident this year.”
The momentum from the closing stretch carried immediately into Game 4 as RHAM bolted out to an 8-0 lead behind three kills from Veilleux and seven service points from Kara Trippel (23 digs, 19-of-23 serving).
It also highlighted the passing ability of Smolinski, the latest in a line of quality setters for RHAM, a list that includes Mallory Mangan and Ellie Linden.
“Laura doesn’t need the perfect pass to set because she’s strong enough to get the ball up,” Guernsey said. “The pass just has to be high enough to get to her. She makes our passers and our hitters better.”
What was even more impressive was the play of RHAM junior middle- hitters Francesca Mack and Briana Geoghegan. Both were dominant in stretches in keeping balls alive as well as keeping East Lyme’s dangerous hitter — Raeann Nesta (22 kills) — in check.
“ Briana is a solid defensive stopper for us and Francesca is a little more aggressive-minded in the middle,” Guernsey said. “No question what they both did with blocks was key.
Against East Lyme, you don’t want Nesta to get herself going.”
Maggie Swenson finished with 37 assists for the Vikings, who never threatened once RHAM built its early Game 4 lead — getting as close as 18-12.
Consecutive kills from Kirkpatrick gave RHAM its first match point at 24-15 before Tripoli finished things out.
Down the road RHAM will face the likes of Southington, Glastonbury and Norwich Free Academy along with matches against an improved CCC East Division with Tolland, E.O. Smith and Rocky Hill.
“What makes us good is that we can attack from anywhere on the floor,” Guernsey said. “At times, though, even in the last game today, we were just hitting free balls over the net instead of just swinging to put pressure on them.
“We have to get out of the rut of playing safe all the time.”
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