Newtown High School's volleyball team captured the state Class LL championship in what was one of its toughest matches all season against a skilled Southington team Saturday night at Wilby High School in Waterbury.
The final score was 25-23, 24-26, 27-25, 26-24.
"Every game decided by two points – you really couldn't ask for a more exciting match," Nighthawks coach Tom Czaplinski said. "As a coach you don't really want them that close but it was a very exciting match."
Emma Herring, who racked up 23 kills in four games, proved what an offensive force she was, and for her efforts, was named Most Valuable Player.
"We knew it was going to be a struggle," Herring said of playing Southington. "They are really good team. They have really good hitters. They have a big block. I think we wish it went to three (games) but we're all happy about the outcome."
Also recording an impressive night was Jessica Lynch, who in setting up Newtown's hitters, recorded 40 assists, one ace, one dig and two blocked shots. Playing in the backcourt, Abbey Doski had 34 digs and one ace.
Other contributors were Sam Steimle with 10 kills and three blocked shots; Riley Wurtz with five kills, two aces and seven digs; Alyssa Finkenstadt with four kills and one assist; Cassie Ekstrom with one kill, one ace, two digs; and Amanda Rowan with one kill and a blocked shot.
"We really worked so hard to stay consistent through the game," Doski said. "Our whole team played so cohesively."
After winning the first game, Newtown appeared to be cruising toward a win during the opening points of the second game, leading 10-2 until Southington turned up the pressure, winning five consecutive points and chipping away at Newtown's lead until soon it was the Blue Knights that had pulled ahead by two points to win the second game, 26-24.
With the tide shifting to Southington, the Blue Knights jumped to an early lead, 9-2, in the third game. But then a set of errors left the door open for Newtown to climb back and eventually pull ahead. The Blue Knights kept it close with some brilliant saves and kills, but Newtown eventually edged ahead by the two points it needed to win the third, 27-25.
"Overall, it was pretty even...some big runs by both teams," Southington Coach Richard Heitz said.
The fourth game was near identical to the see-saw of prior games as Newtown had a 17-9 lead before Southington rallied to tie the game at 22 each, and then 24 each.
"To have that big of a lead and then lose it is disappointing in of itself," Doski said. "To be in that situation again makes you think, 'Don't do that again.' We really had to work hard to overcome that mental fear."
The final point came after a Blue Knights serve out of bounds brought Newtown's Cassie Ekstrom to the serve line. A Southington spike that Doski was able to dig out, followed by a Wurtz pass and bump over the net by Courtney Escoda took the Blue Knights by surprise and gave Newtown the point it needed to win the fourth game and championship.
"A lot of people were saying if it ends up being Southington-Newtown in the final it would be a heck of a battle and I think it was," Heitz said.
Dropping only one game in the five-round tournament, Newtown has been dominant all year. In fact, the Nighthawks dropped only five out of the 56 games it played during the regular season. Their only loss coming during a nonconference match against East Lyme, which coincidentally also won a state Class L title of its own earlier Saturday.