The fourth installment of this series moves on to boys volleyball. A newer sport to Connecticut, many of the local schools don’t have teams, but a couple of programs have emerged over the past 20 years.
Southington and Newington have left memorable impacts since starting their boys volleyball programs and produced number of state championship contenders and All-State talents.
Here are 10 of the most successful boys volleyball teams to ever represent the local area:
The Blue Knights entered their 2009 campaign as two-time reigning runners-up in Class L with both championship defeats coming at the hands of Staples. This season ended the exact same way, but that didn’t diminish the success this team created.
The third-best team in the class after a 17-1 regular season that ended on a 12-game winning streak, Southington was led to its fourth consecutive CCC Championship by all-conference selections Brendan Charamut, Ryan Charamut, Nick Defeo, Kenny Duffy and Justin Solomon.
Dominant all year long, the Blue Knights only allowed their opponents to win two or more sets in three games across the regular season. They didn’t lose a set through the first three rounds of the state tournament either, beating South Windsor, Xavier and Cheshire and only let the opposing team reach 20 points once.
Southington won the first set of its second championship rematch with top-seeded Staples 25-20 and continued to compete throughout. The Blue Knights barely lost the second set 25-23 and then came close again in the third by losing 25-22. Staples put them away with a 25-15 win in the fourth set to give Southington its third straight second-place finish.
This was the year the Blue Knights finally made it over the hump. Another 17-1 regular season and fifth-straight CCC title earned them the second seed in the Class L tournament behind defending champion and postseason foe Staples.
Southington opened the 2010 season 14-0 courtesy of all-conference play from Neal Ayotte, Brendan Charamut, Defeo and Mitch Oshana. The team’s lone regular season loss was on the road against Newington, which Southington had beat 3-0 earlier in the year.
Earning a bye through the first round of the tournament, the Blue Knights scooped up 3-1 wins over Greenwich and Xavier before meeting Staples in the championship in what ended up being a five-set contest for the ages. Southington started slow and dropped the first set 25-10, but grinded back and one the next set 28-26 and then won the third set 25-23. Staples forced a final set with a 25-19 win in the fourth as Southington rose to the occasion and capped off the program’s lone championship with a 15-11 fifth-set victory.
Prior to the 2010’s, Newington boys volleyball reached the final of the state tournament once - in 2006. Starting in 2011, the Indians have played in seven state championship games in nine seasons and won six of them.
The 2011 team may not have been able to win its final game, but the season the Indians put together laid the foundation of a dynasty. Anchored by all-conference selections Reed Feery, Derek Dempsey, Glenn Johnson, Ian Aprea, Taylor Gallicchio, they went 15-3 in the regular season and qualified as the third-seeded team in the Class M state tournament. Feery and Johnson additionally received All-State honors.
The tournament started off easy with a bye followed by a 3-0 win over Oxford. After that was a matchup with second-seeded Masuk, which took a 2-0 advantage to start the semifinal game. The Indians lost the second set 26-24, but then won three straight sets 25-23, 25-14 and 17-15 to punch a ticket to the championship game.
In the title game they pushed top-seeded Darien to the limit, but Newington was unable to arise victorious from the five-set contest. The Indians led 2-1 after three sets, but lost the last two 25-22 and 15-11.
The returners from the previous year’s runner-up team had no intention of letting another opportunity slip away and made that clear. Aprea and Gallicchio were joined by Peter Feeney, Robert Oziomek and Tyler Willgoos on the 2012 all-conference team as they led Newington to a 16-2 record and the top seed in the Class M tournament.
CCC champions for the second year in a row, Gallicchio and Feeney earned All-State honors after contributing to the Indians first state championship in boys volleyball. They won their quarterfinal match against Joel Barlow 3-0 before meeting Darien, which bested them in the 2011 state championship. Newington emerged with the 3-2 win this time, but not before trailing 2-1 after three sets. They closed the game out with a 25-20 fourth set and 15-13 fifth.
Waiting for Newington in the final was second-seeded Oxford, but the Indians knew it was their time. They split the first two sets before Newington squeaked out a 25-23 win in the third and then secured their first Class M title by winning the fourth set 25-17.
This win officially put Newington on the map as a force in the boys volleyball scene across the state that has remained difficult to stop to this day.
The 2014 Indians lost just one match all season in their march to a second state championship, finishing 24-1 and playing like the top seed they were in the Class M state tournament.
Newington received a bye in the first round of the state tournament and never lost a set, sweeping eighth-seeded Farmington 3-0 in the quarterfinals and Joel Barlow, the No. 5 seed, in the semifinals. Once the Indians reached the final against second-seeded Oxford, the defending Class M state champions, the sets got much closer, but Newington still prevailed in a 3-0 sweep by scores of 25-22, 25-20 and 25-20.
Oxford nearly ended the Indians’ sweep streak, leading 22-21 in the first set, but Newington rattled off four straight points to take the win. The Indians had to erase another deficit in the second set, taking off on a 6-0 run to take control of the match.
The victory was the second time the Indians beat Oxford in a state title game. Setter Ryan McManus was named tournament MVP after logging 30 assists and eight digs in the championship match. Jonathan Cloutier added 12 kills, while Bret Sullivan recorded 16 digs.
The Blue Knights returned to the Class L championship for the first time since its 2010 championship in 2014 and were once again pitted against the tournament’s No. 1 seed. Facing a talented Ridgefield team, they were unable to win a second state championship and were forced to settle for the program’s fourth runner-up finish.
A 16-2 regular season gave Southington the third seed in the Class Lstate tournament and the Blue Knight did not lose a set until the final game. Following a first round bye, they picked up 3-0 wins over Shelton and second-seeded Staples while never letting either team reach 20 points in any set. Unfortunately, the inverse happened in the championship game and Southington was blanked 3-0 by Ridgefield.
The Blue Knights benefited from four all-conference selections in Adam Brush, Dan Connolly, Peter Masters, David Shaughnessy. Their only losses that season prior to the Class L championship came against Class M and CCC champion Newington, including one in the semifinals of the CCC Tournament.
The Indians made it two state titles in a row when they once again earned the top seed in the Class M state tournament and marched to a championship, though the run to the title would be much more challenging than the 2014 edition.
Newington barely survived the quarterfinals after a bye in the first round, edging No. 9-seed Masuk 3-2 after losing the fourth set. The Indians lost a close 25-22 decision in the second set before pulling out a 26-24 thriller in the third, but once Masuk tied the match at two apiece, Newington regained its championship focus and dominated with a 15-6 win in the decisive fifth set to move on to the semifinals. There, the team dropped the first set to fifth-seeded New Canaan before winning three straight to once again reach the state championship.
Facing second-seeded Joel Barlow, which was playing in its first-ever state final, the Indians broke a 1-1 tie with two set wins in a row to become back-to-back state champions, which also served as another pillar in what would become one of the most dominant runs in local history, in any sport.
Nick Hinchcliffe was named tournament MVP after throwing down 37 kills in the title match, while setter Blake Mamaclay dished out a ridiculous 62 assists. It was a fitting sendoff for senior Jordan Aprea, who finished his high school career with multiple All-State selections and picked up 10 kills and 19 digs in the final.
The 2016 season was an outlier for the Indians, who didn’t reach the state final, but they returned to dominance in 2017, which was the year that began a run of three straight championships, and that is still an active streak.
Newington didn’t appear as dominant going into the tournament, earning the No. 4 seed in Class M, but it was back in championship form as soon as the tournament started. Well, maybe after the third set of the quarterfinals started. The Indians trailed fifth-seeded Lewis Mills 2-0 and was on the brink of elimination before running away with three straight wins, including a 15-9 victory in the decisive fifth set to keep their championship hopes alive. The win set up a rematch with Joel Barlow, which was the top seed in the tournament, but after a thrilling 28-26 win in the first set and a lopsided loss in the second, Newington took control for a 3-1 victory to get back to the state final.
There, the Indians battled through one of the most memorable matches in school history with South Windsor, the tournament’s No. 7 seed, at Plainville High School. After losing 24-26 and 20-25 in the first two sets, Newington went to work, taking the next two sets to set up a classic fifth set, where the Indians won a dramatic 16-14 dogfight to once again become state champs.
Kevin Bilbraut was named tournament MVP after picking up 31 digs. Bilbraut, Andres Ithier-Vicenty and Zach Harmon were all named to the All-State team.
The Indians’ dominance continued in 2018 with their second straight state championship and their fifth in seven seasons, as the program continued to solidify itself as a state powerhouse under head coach Curt Burns.
Newington was back as the top seed in the Class M state tournament that season and dispatched eighth-seeded Farmington 3-1 in the quarterfinals before an overwhelming 3-0 sweep of No. 5 South Windsor in the semifinals, which set up a rematch with Joel Barlow, the No. 3 seed, in the state championship. Once again, the Indians battled through an all-time classic, winning an unforgettable 3-2 match where all five sets were decided by three points or less.
Newington took the first 26-24 before falling 25-23 in the second. The teams traded wins again with the Indians winning 25-22 in the third and losing by the same score in the fourth, setting up a dramatic 15-13 win in the fifth to spark another championship celebration.
Junior Louis Egbuna was huge for Newington, logging 23 kills, seven service aces and seven digs. Leonel Caceres added 21 kills and seven digs, and both would be back for the 2019 season.
The three-peat was completed last spring, as the Indians showed their relentless depth by overcoming injury adversity to win another Class M state championship.
Newington lost its all-conference junior Mason Romano to injury during the conference tournament, but still rolled through the state tournament as the No. 1 seed. The march to another title began with a 3-0 sweep of eight-seeded South Windsor and another sweep of Wethersfield, the No. 4 seed, to set up a date with second-seeded Cheshire in the final. The Rams took the first set before Newington ran away with three straight wins, including a close 25-22 victory in the fourth set to clinch the program’s fourth state championship in six years.
Caceres was a finalist for CIAC Player of the Year after a dominant senior campaign and Egbuna was named All-State after finishing the season with 272 kills, the 10th-most in all of Connecticut.