Conard hosted South Windsor on Wednesday in the first round of the CCC Volleyball Tournament.
By Paul Palmer
It looked like it would be a quick match for the Conard boys volleyball team when they opened play in the CCC tournament by hosting South Windsor. The Red Wolves cruised through the first two sets 25-12 and 25-13, but then the wheels came off, as they dropped both the third and fourth sets before recovering to win the decisive fifth set.
“Before the fifth set I told them they need to decide if they want to win the match,” said head coach Kerry Roller.
Behind the setting of Julian Hartland and the net presence of Tristan McClay, Conard built leads of 9-3 and 13-8 in the opening set. Jayden Flores held serve for Conard to 23-12, before the home side closed it out 25-12. In the second set, the No. 2 ranked Red Wolves raced out to a quick 10-4 lead over the seventh-ranked Bobcats. They pushed it to 15-6 behind the serve of Jayden Du, who sealed it from the net with the set winner at 25-13.
“In the first two sets we played well with a good rhythm,” said Roller.
Needing to win just one more set, Conard was on the verge of a sweep into the semifinals before the Bobcats struck back. Early in the third set, neither team could put together any kind of run before Alexander Ali Ezedine served South Windsor from a 6-5 lead to an 11-6 lead before losing serve. With McClay serving for Conard the Red Wolves pulled things even at 14, but the Bobcats clawed their way back to a 20-15 lead and wrapped it up with a two-man block at the net for the 25-16 set win.
The fourth set was another back-and-forth affair as neither team could build a lead of more than 2 points until Conard got to 20-15. Benjamin Bernstein was all over the court for the Bobcats in the match. From his serves to his passes and sets, he helped the Bobcats stay in the match and eventually claim the 25-23 win to tie the match at two games apiece.
“We didn’t carry our momentum,” said Roller of the third and fourth sets. Rafael Ortiz had to come out of middle for Conard after suffering an injury, but Roller said it was more a lack of communication among the players that helped South Windsor get back into the game.
South Windsor opened the service to start the deciding fifth set. Both teams were flying, chasing down every ball on their side of the net, creating opportunities with strong passes and big strikes at the net. Senior Matt Bullock of South Windsor was strong in the center and Conard thrived with the set work of Hartland and the net presence of McClay, Du, and Max Riker.
Neither team could build much momentum until Paul Gagalick’s service helped Conard build a 12-9 lead. With South Windsor serving down 14-12, Conard was ready to end things with a play they had not used all day. The Red Wolves had the match point serve, and after a rally, it was the freshman Hartland – who had spent the entire day setting for other players – dinking the ball back over the net for the 15-12 winner.
Conard will host Simsbury Thursday at 5 p.m. in the semifinal round.
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