Pictured: H-K defeated Hale-Ray 25-18, 25-18, 25-19 to win the Shoreline title for the second straight season. (Photo by Danny Atkinson)

By Danny Atkinson

CLINTON — The Haddam-Killingworth and Hale-Ray volleyball squads played two highly competitive games this season, with H-K outlasting the Noises in five sets both times. It was a similar story in Friday night’s Shoreline Conference tournament final, as the Cougars’ experience and depth helped them answer every challenge that was thrown at them.

H-K defeated Hale-Ray in a sweep (25-18, 25-18, 25-19) to win the Shoreline championship for the second consecutive season. The match was certainly closer than the final score indicated, as the Noises were right with the Cougars midway through each set. However, H-K was ultimately able to go on runs each time to secure the win, while not allowing the Noises to go on extensive runs themselves.

While the Cougars demonstrated significant strengths in many areas, the most notable was their ability to set up returns and especially powerful kills, communicate on defense, and avoid mistakes and errors.

While the Noises were equally strong in these areas at times and served effectively, they were prone to committing errors at crucial times.

Various game stats demonstrate the Cougars depth. Jessica Timothy received 13 serves and Audrey Snyder 12. Lola Chagnon led the team in digs with seven while Timothy had five. Rettberg was the team leader in aces at five, with Chagnon adding three. Carly Rettberg finished with 14 points, Snyder 13, and Chagnon 10.

With the win, the top-seeded Cougars improved to 18-4 overall, while the third-seeded Noises drop to 13-7. To reach the conference final, H-K defeated Coginchaug 3-2, while Hale-Ray triumphed over Old Lyme 3-0 and East Hampton 3-2.

Cougars head coach Robin Callender talked about how essential her team’s composure and consistency was for winning the championship game.

“We knew Hale-Ray has shown tremendous growth this season, and we had trouble capitalizing on their mistakes in the regular season,” she said. “I just said to them we have a little more experience, and we have to take that and focus and bring our game to another level. We knew we had to take advantage of every mistake they made, and it was nice playing one of our best games ever.”

“I think our positive attitude and communication really allowed us to get the job done,” Rettberg said. “I was able to set up hitters, and they really executed and kept our momentum going.”

It was an emotional night for Noises coach Karen Sweet and her players, who are coming to terms with the death of 16-year-old Hale-Ray student Connor Young in a one-car accident on Wednesday.

“The team has faced tragedy in the community the last few days and it’s been emotionally draining,” Sweet said. “I’m proud of my team for how they have dealt with it, but I think our energy levels were definitely a little bit lower. We just didn’t have it today.”

Game one seesawed back and forth early, with H-K leading 13-12 midway through. The Cougars won four of the next five points to force a Hale-Ray timeout, but it made no difference, as H-K ultimately went on a 9-2 run to take a 22-14 lead, ultimately winning by seven points. The decisive run featured multiple impressive kills by Timothy and Snyder and quality setting by the Cougars. Meanwhile, Hale-Ray struggled to consistently pass the ball during the run and committed unforced errors. The Noises did record multiple key digs and blocked well.

In the second match, Hale-Ray shook off the loss and got off to a very strong start, going up 13-10 and forcing H-K to take a timeout. The Noises did a strong job of both setting up and returning shots, forcing poor returns by the Cougars and errors. Sarabeth Amenta and Brooke Praskievicz led the way during this stretch, combining for multiple kills and blocks. Following the timeout however, everything changed.

H-K began to set up shots more efficiently and put Hale-Ray on its heels, ultimately forcing the Noises into long possessions that ended in errant shots and H-K kills. After the Cougars’ 9-1 run, the teams began to briefly exchange point. Ashley Malone recorded a powerful kill and helped the Noises get as close as 22-18 before H-K secured the win with a 3-0 run, punctuated by a key block by Reese Timothy.

The third set was very close midway through before the Cougars began to pull away. Consecutive kills by Praskievicz helped tie the game at 8 and Molly Wordell earned a point at the net for the Noises to make the deficit 14-12. Snyder and Audra Yazmer answered with a kill and important block to quickly make their lead 18-13, and Hale-Ray would never get any closer.

Jessica Timothy talked about how the change in H-K’s strategy between the first game and the last two helped the team win.

“Early on they tried to get the ball to me (a lot), and then we noticed that they were putting taller defenders on me, so we shifted on the court to make sure the blockers were following me, and other girls were allowed to hit,” she said.

Timothy also discussed how important Chagnon was to the team’s success.

“Getting her back from a hurt ankle allowed us to change up the lineup and just defend a lot better,” she said.

Callender discussed how valuable her most experienced seniors (Jessica Timothy, Snyder, Rettberg and Megan Butler) have been this season and how she has stressed to the four that tournament play is an opportunity for them to prove their skills and leadership abilities.

Rettberg discussed the experience of repeating as conference champions.

“It’s great and I love this team so much. I’m so proud of everyone and how our hard work in practice has paid off.”

H-K will compete in the Class M tournament and have a bye as the No. 7 seed. The Cougars will face either No. 10 Branford or No. 23 Watertown on Wednesday. Hale-Ray is the No. 11 seed in Class S and will face No. 22 SMSA on Monday.

“We need to continue to play at this level and not drop down,” Callender said. “The players need to believe in themselves and their students.

Meanwhile, Sweet is confident that her team can also go on a state tournament run.

“I think we have what it takes,” she said. “Our upperclassmen have been great leaders for the younger players and helped them to rise up, and the team will continue to fight on.”

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