East Lyme repeats as Class L volleyball champion
Waterbury - Senior Olivia Delea stepped to the service line during Saturday's CIAC Class L volleyball championship match and delivered two aces when her East Lyme High School teammates needed the boost.
Delea couldn't have done that earlier in the season.
Junior Devin Perez was a presence at the net and disrupted RHAM of Hebron.
Perez couldn't have done that when East Lyme played the Sachems earlier in the season.
The Vikings saved their best for their biggest match of the season. They rallied from a Game 1 deficit and overwhelmed top-seeded RHAM en route to their second straight state championship at Wilby of Waterbury.
East Lyme 26-24, 25-16, 25-18.
The kids are alright.
"I can't comprehend how we did it in three games," Delea said. "From the beginning of the year to now, it's just unbelievable."
The seventh-seeded Vikings (21-4) are the Eastern Connecticut Conference's first two-time state champion.
"Throughout every loss that we had, for every game that we had, we grew as a team," senior co-captain and MVP Raeann Nesta said. "We grew emotionally. We grew physically. We grew stronger. We definitely connected more.
"When you step into the gym, you have to be a team. And that's what's most important about it, and that's a big part of what we accomplished."
The Vikings played in memory of East Lyme graduate Brian Dagle, who passed last weekend.
"We believed that he helped us," Delea said. "He pushed us here. He gave us the strength."
It also the second straight year that East Lyme took down one of Connecticut's volleyball elite. It swept Darien in last year's final, snapping the latter's run of nine straight state championships. No one had ever beaten the Blue Wave in their previous 15 championship appearances.
RHAM (19-3) had won the previous four Class M titles and moved up a division this year due to enrollment. It returned all but two players from that team.
The Sachems also beat East Lyme in four games on Sept. 20.
"A lot of these girls were JV players last year who were coming up (to varsity)," senior co-captain Emily Passman said. "You could see that in the RHAM game, our third game of the season. We did not play well at all.
"It just goes to show the improvement. They came out and showed themselves (today). Devin, Kayla (Fobian), Olivia, they've all just grown up and matured into these great mentally tough, physically tough volleyball players. And that's what gave us the victory here."
Nesta was a force up front. She powered through double blocks and finished with 18 kills and three blocks.
Senior Maggie Swenson had 32 assists and four kills for East Lyme. Passman had 14 digs and Fobian, a junior, had 12 digs and six kills.
Perez added seven kills.
"On the last day that you can play volleyball, (Perez) had her best match of the year," Vikings coach Jack Biggs said.
East Lyme was a bit out of sync in the first game and trailed 21-18. Passman hit a kill from the back row to give her team the serve.
Delea stepped up and served two aces during a four-point run. She finished with four aces.
"I don't believe that I had the confidence to come out at the beginning of the season to serve like that," Delea said. "My confidence in my serving has definitely improved."
The Sachems regained the lead, 24-23.
Fobian tied it with a kill to give her team the serve.
A Nesta block gave the Vikings game-point.
Junior Emily Ennis served an ace for a 26-24 win.
East Lyme had seized momentum by the throat.
"For whatever reason, we allowed Game 1 to dictate the match," RHAM coach Tim Guernsey said. "You could see (our players) faces. You could see their body langauge. It didn't seem like they knew we were going to win the match."
Biggs said, "All these young players stepped up. And again, it's kind of the character of our team with these seniors leading they way. That they had that focus and kind of that swagger to say 'Hey, listen - let's go and play, everyone. It's time for everybody to step up.'"