Throughout the Cheshire boys volleyball team's undefeated season, there were many instances when the team came together when it had to, regrouped and finished off opponents.
The Rams, who completed a 22-0 season Friday, lost just six games all season, four to Newington in two non-conference matches, one to Ridgefield in the CIAC Class L semifinals and one to Staples-Westport in the final Friday night in the steamy, sauna-like atmosphere of Fairfield Warde High School's gym.
Cheshire needed to come together in a big way Friday after losing the first game by an astounding and unexpected 25-12. The No. 1 seed Rams looked out of it in all phases of their game. But there has been no denying this team this season, and when it counted Cheshire showed it can close out tight games better than anyone in the state as it prevailed 3-1 over the eight-time state champion and No. 3 Wreckers by scores of 12-25, 25-23, 26-24, 25-22 to win the program's first state title.
All of Cheshire's heavy hitters and passers played a role in the victory, but none bigger than captain Joe Bahgat (18 kills), who coming off a back injury that prevented him from playing in the quarterfinal, rallied his team multiple times scoring the clinching spikes in both the second and third games.
"It was a mental thing (coming out flat)," Bahgat said. "Staples had the first game. Their fans came out loud. They came out fired up, wanting to beat the No. 1 team. If we've learned one thing throughout the season, we definitely know how to come back when we lose.
"Those games that we lost against Newington and Ridgefield definitely prepared us for this game because we dropped the first game but came back. It's unbelievable. It's an experience I can't describe. We've wanted this so hard from the beginning. We worked hard every day, came into practice with this on our minds wanting to become state champions. We took it slowly, day-by-day. Throughout the season we just progressed and we peaked at the end."
Nate Howard (19 kills, three blocks), Ryan Cuppernull (12 kills, six digs), captain K.C. Philcox (eight blocks, eight digs) and Ray Brumleve (50 assists) were all major players in the victory.
Howard scored six kills apiece in the crucial second and third games. Brumleve's passing improved throughout and was accurate and efficient in the last game, and Cuppernull showed untiring stamina in Game 4, scoring four kills, three in the last five points, including the clincher.
It was a huge win for Cheshire head coach Sue Bavone, who has won three state titles with her girls program. She saw key contributions from all of her players and complete dedication from her entire roster.
"That was just a total team effort," Bavone said. "I was very happy when Ryan got to the front row (in the fourth game) because Ryan had a lot of energy left. Great having Joe back on the floor. I wouldn't want it any other way because he's really been the backbone of this team for the past four years.
"He's been dedicated since his freshman year to off-season doing everything. For him to be able to walk away with a title it really is a full circle. He's the first four-year guy we've had that's really done all the things we've asked and it's culminated in a state championship."
Bahgat's sister Nora was a member of Cheshire's 2007 state champion team, and his sister Dena (2003-06) was on Bavone's staff for this one.
"The state championship means everything," Bahgat said. "My sisters have been to the state finals. They've had a chance to get titles and it's an amazing feeling how I'm the last one and I can help get a state championship for the boys program."
Juniors Howard, Brumleve, Cuppernull, starter Matthew Ward and sophomore Evan Colechia, who filled in as a starter for Bahgat in the quarterfinal, are all back next season.
"Our J.V. was undefeated as was our varsity," Bavone said. "That's going to get these guys to do off-season stuff, to get sparked. They're going to want to continue that, that trend. So far, we don't have a guy on this team that has lost this year, so that's a good thing to do. Teaching people how to win is tough, but seeing it happen before them is going to get them fired up to work in the off-season. We'll just keep it going. We'll see."
Track & Field
Jake Scinto won the triple jump with a school-record leap of 47 feet, 5 inches and was second in the long jump (school-record 23-5) and high jump (6-6) at the CIAC State Open Tuesday at Willow Brook Park in New Britain.
Phil Caldwell placed fourth in the 800 meters in 1 minute, 54.31 seconds, and Eric Zdanowski was sixth in the 110 hurdles (15.21) as the boys team finished third with 34 points.
All three qualified for the New England Championship in Burlington, VT Saturday, where Scinto tied for eighth in the high jump (6-3) and made the finals in the triple jump (45-1/2). Zdanowski was 10th in the 110 hurdles (15.29).
In the State Open girls meet Tuesday, Ashia Wright finished seventh in the 100 meters in a school-record 12.39 and was ninth in the 200 (25.84). Ariel Greene placed 13th in the discus (101-1), and Breslyn Goodison was 20th in the shot put (33-0). The girls were 55th with 2 points.
Cheshire fell in the CIAC Class L semifinal 11-6 to Greenwich on Wednesday. Jess Sudock and Alyssa Hague each scored twice for the No. 2 seed Rams, who finish at 18-4, the best record in school history.
Maria Blois and Kathleen Kalbian each added a goal, and goalie Ashley Zane made four saves.
On Monday, Cheshire defeated Danbury 16-5 in the quarterfinals at home behind Kalbian's five goals. Sudock scored a hat trick and Hague and Stacy Liberopoulos each scored twice. Blois, Alexis Sansone, Alison Hoynes and Christy Myjack also scored as Zane made seven saves.
Blois finished the season with a team-high 61 goals, Sudock 60, Kalbian 55 and Hague 48.
The team graduates five seniors, Alayna DePaolo, Paige Pikulski and Sudock, all captains, and Sofia Martone and Zane.
The doubles team of Dan Grove-Tyler Hajjar advanced the furthest for the Rams getting to the Class LL semifinals in which the No. 3 seed duo lost to the No. 2 team of Jake Hirschberg-Graham Hyman of Staples 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) at Yale University.
Cheshire tied for fourth with four other teams with 11 points. Staples won the team title with 24.
Cheshire place 12th with 331 points at the Division I state tournament Monday at Timberlin Golf Club in Kensington. Gil Lassen shot a 75 to earn All-State honors while other Rams scorers were: Tom Wellspeak (83), Eric Dietrich (86), Jake Ecke (87) and Abe Siliman (100). Ridgefield won with a 307.
The Rams finished third with a 384 in the State Open Tuesday at Orange Hill Country Club, and Andra Frappier was third in the individual standings with an 84. She finished second last season.
Other Cheshire scorers were: Meg Aitro (95), Emily Larkin (97), Emma Velcofsky (108) and Jess Rotell (110). Berlin won the team title with a 375.
Nate Howard, Joe Bahgat, Ryan Cuppernull and Ray Brumleve all earned All-Southern Connecticut Conference first team honors in boys volleyball, and K.C. Philcox was named to the second team.
Other Cheshire All-SCC selections included:
Gil Lassen (golf); Dom Severino, Connor David, Max Slade and Greg Leonetti (All-Housatonic baseball); Alyssa Carafano and Alex Hirt (Division I girls tennis doubles); Dan Grove (Division I boys tennis singles); Nate Trumbo and Casey Barry (Division I boys tennis doubles); Jake Scinto (track & field, high jump, triple jump, long jump); Kevin Adams, Matt Dupont, Torrey Martone and Evan Gaudio (boy lacrosse first team); John Cunningham and Kevin Pasquale (boys lacrosse second team); Jess Sudock, Maria Blois and Paige Pikulski (girls lacrosse first team); Alyssa Hague and Kathleen Kalbian (girls lacrosse second team); Anna Marcucilli, Ali Giannone and Caroline Kushner (All-Housatonic softball).