EAST HAVEN, November 23 – The Avon High volleyball team looked poised and composed Saturday morning in the Class L championship against No. 5 Guilford.
And why not? In the semifinals on Wednesday, the No. 2 Falcons vanquished long-time nemesis RHAM, who had played in five of the last six Class L finals and a team that beat Avon earlier this month.
Playing in the morning was no issue for the Falcons. They’ve been practicing on Saturday mornings throughout the season and played in a Saturday tournament in September that had an early start.
Avon trailed just once in the entire match and senior hitter Emily Dempsey had a match-high 16 kills as the Falcons won their first-ever state championship volleyball with a 3-0 sweep over Guilford (25-16, 25-19, 25-16) at East Haven High School.
On Wednesday, the Falcons (23-2) tied a season-high with 12 blocks to beat RHAM, the No. 1 ranked team in the latest state coaches poll, in five games. On Saturday, the Falcons had seven blocks including five from Eliza Jones and four from setter Abby St. Onge to disrupt the Guilford offense.
Long-time Avon High Curt Burns said the key was preparation – work that began for the Falcons in August. Before the season began, Burns saw the start time for the Class L final (10 a.m.) and he was determined to have the Falcons ready for it.
“It comes down to preparation,” he said. “We had morning practices every Saturday and went to an early-morning tournament. Once we knew we were coming here at 10 a.m. in the morning on November 23, we prepared for it.”
Avon’s defense got the job done.
“It starts with our block and we have a tall, physical team that can do that. Then, we coordinate the defense behind that. We work on that every day in practice,” Burns said.
Guilford had opportunities. Emma Appleman had 15 kills but the Indians weren’t able to put together rallies and unforced errors stymied other potential rallies.
“I am so proud of how we came out (to play),” Avon setter Abby St. Onge said. “We had a really hard game against RHAM and I was so proud of how we fought through there. I think we took that energy and momentum we got from that win and brought it out on the court today.”
Avon took a 5-1 lead in game one and extended the lead to six points, 13-7. Guilford cut the lead to four, 14-10, but never got any closer in a 25-16 loss.
In game two, the score was tied 3-3 early but Avon scored four straight points to take a 7-4 lead. Two of the four points came on net violations with the Indians touching the net. Guilford cut the lead to three points on several occasions but dropped game two, 25-19.
One memorable rally came when four Guilford hits were dug up off the floor by the Falcon defense and Avon won the point.
Guilford took their only lead of the match in game three with a 4-0 run to take a 6-4 lead. But the Falcons responded with a 4-0 run of their own to retake the lead. Guilford was called twice for carries, had one net violation and had a kill from Dempsey deflect off a Guilford defender out of bounds. It was part of a 16-4 surge that put Avon in firm command.
The winning point came on a block by St. Onge. “Blocking has been my thing since freshman year before I was a setter. It was great to go out on that,” she said.
Led by Dempsey with 16 kills, Avon had 40 kills – their third highest number of kills in a match this season. Baylee Braun had seven kills while Sarah Jacobs and St. Onge had five kills each. Eliza Jones had four kills.
Liberio Noelle Powers had a team-leading 13 digs while St. Onge had 10. Braun and Dempsey each dug up nine hits. St. Onge, who is the team setter, was able to make 33 assists because her team got her the ball. Avon had just three errors receiving the serve.
“Emily is definitely a big part of our offense and so I wanted to keep that going today, “ St. Onge said. “Everyone pitched in. Sarah Jacobs had a few key kills when we had a hard time getting something going on the outside. Baylee (Braun) got some hits as always does and Kelli Raines did a great job on the outside. We able to run a few different things to keep them on their toes.”
It was Avon’s first-ever appearance in a state championship match.
“We’ve always had a lot of good and talented teams over the years it just seems like every year there was a team that was a little bit better than us,” said Burns, now in his 32nd season behind the bench for the Falcons. “We knew we had a good team (this year). We had to work hard and whatever matchup we got we had to be able to beat them and we did.”
Avon has earned a spot in the CIAC tournament for 24 of the last 25 seasons.
“There no other group of girls I would have rather done this with,” St. Onge said. “We’ve been together since freshman year playing hard. We’ve had such an amazing team chemistry this year. It’s been amazing.”