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Class L state tournament: WA heading back to state semis

The match ended and the music began.

So did the dancing.

The Woodstock Academy volleyball team has made it a habit after victories this season, everybody, including coaches Adam Bottone and Jeremiah Huntt, get out on the floor and get jiggy with it.

On Saturday, that dance was especially euphoric.

The 12th-seeded Centaurs, for the second time in what is essentially three seasons (there was no volleyball state tournament in 2020) advanced to the Class L state tournament semifinals with a shutout victory over No. 13 Pomperaug, 3-0, at the Alumni Fieldhouse in a quarterfinal match.

The semifinal berth comes just a year after Woodstock Academy failed to even make the state tournament.

“I knew I was going to take my lumps last year going with a bunch of young kids but that definitely paid off this year. Am I surprised to make it to the semifinals? Yes and no. Yes, because we’ve been so up-and-down this year but no because I know we have the talent to do it,” Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone said.

One of those youngsters is sophomore setter Sophie Gronski

“It’s so amazing,” a jubilant Gronski said of the quarterfinal win. “I can’t even explain it. It’s such a good feeling. The last time we got to this point it was with my sister (Maddy) and her team.”

That was in 2019 when the Centaurs lost to Guilford, 3-2, in the final four.

On that team, as a freshman, was one of this year’s seniors, Leila MacKinnon.

“I’ve always seemed to be on the losing teams here but this is what makes it all pay off. We’re working really hard. It feels good to work hard and have it pay off,” MacKinnon said.

How much does she remember from 2019?

“Nothing -  so it should be good,”MacKinnon said with a laugh.

The Centaurs will be facing the top seed in the Class L tournament, undefeated Joel Barlow, on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at SMSA in Hartford.

Barlow also won by shutout, 3-0, over No. 8 Platt High School.

There is a history between the two teams.

Barlow downed Woodstock Academy, 3-2, in the 2018 Class L state championship match. The Centaurs downed Barlow, 3-0, in the Class L semifinals the year before that.

“I know they have a good setter and a really good outside hitter. We have to be aware of that. We have to be really disciplined on defense and pay attention to what the hitters are doing, not get stuck on watching the ball. We have to pass and side out right away when they serve and our serves have to stay in. If we do those two things, which we struggle with, I think we will give them a run for their money,” Adam Bottone said.

The Centaurs served and received much better against the Panthers but what they probably did best was hustle.

“Our girls are pursuing everything now,” Adam Bottone said. “In the past, if we had a bad touch, we kind of turned and gave up on it. Now, the girls are diving on the floor, sticking arms and legs out and we’re making things happen. When you go up against a team like Barlow, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

There was nothing easy about the match with Pomperaug even if it did end in three sets.

Two of the three sets were contested with the first going overtime.

The Panthers fought back from a 24-21 deficit to tie the match at 24.

A service error gave the Centaurs (15-9) a chance for set point and they cashed in when a tip by Gronski just over the net was unable to be returned for the 26-24 Woodstock Academy win.

The Centaurs had an easier time in the second set.

The last point Pomperaug would get came on a service error to make it 18-14.

Woodstock Academy scored the next seven points on three kills by Morgan Bonin (10 kills, 10 digs), another by Reegan Reynolds and six consecutive service points by Cassidy Ladd including a set-ending ace.

The Centaurs put together another strong finish in the third set after the Panthers pulled within one, 21-20.

A Pomperaug service error was followed by one of three aces by Liliana Bottone. MacKinnon followed with a big kill off one of Gronski’s 22 assists to set up match point.

“Jeremiah has been doing a phenomenal job working with the hitters. Leila has taken what he has said to heart and she has been extremely productive for us,” Adam Bottone said.

MacKinnon finished with five kills and a block.

The Centaurs got their dance shoes on when a return by Pomperaug went long for the 25-20 third set victory to conclude the shutout.

“I was a little surprised by the 3-0 win,” Liliana Bottone said. “We were watching their (second-round) game with Berlin and they were evenly matched. We weren’t expecting to beat them 3-0, but to do so is amazing. It makes you feel so much better.”

Liliana Bottone finished with nine kills, four assists, and 14 digs. Ladd added 10 service points including two aces and Gronski had 18 digs to go with her 22 assists.