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Class L state semifinal: Centaurs fall to Barlow

Woodstock Academy volleyball coach Adam Bottone had tried to keep his young team at ease going into the Class L semifinal against top-seeded Joel Barlow at Sports Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford on Wednesday night.

That was easier said than done.

“I don’t know if it was ,’Oh no, we’re playing the No. 1 undefeated team’ so we went into it with those nerves instead of staying loose and relaxed which is what we tried to get them to do,” Adam Bottone said. “But we struggled to receive the ball and because of that, we couldn’t get our offense going and sent a lot of easy balls over which put the defense back on its heels.”

And the Falcons took advantage of that.

Joel Barlow finished with a straight set, 3-0, victory over the Centaurs to advance to the Class L championship match.

The Centaurs finished the season at 15-10.

Barlow quickly established itself as it rolled to a 25-11 win in the first set.

The Centaurs thrown off kilter as much by the Falcons’ style as their talent.

“Going into this, we knew we had to play the best game we had all year if we wanted to hang with them. They ran a really fast offense which was tough for us to try and get up and block because we’re a fairly small team. Our reaction to the quicker offense was a little slow. Hopefully, it’s something our girls who are returning next year will learn from,” Adam Bottone said.

Woodstock Academy did bounce back a bit in the second set but Barlow still prevailed, 25-17.

The Falcons finished up with a 25-12 win in the third set.

“We made a lot of great plays and some good digs. We did the best we could but when  we weren’t able to get our offense going, we struggled. We really needed to side out on the first ball that came over the net and we had trouble doing that,” Adam Bottone said.

The Centaurs also didn’t serve any aces.

On the good side, they didn’t have many service errors either.

“We served very conservatively to keep the ball in play, which is what we’ve been working on, but our serves weren’t difficult either,” Adam Bottone said.

Liliana Bottone had five kills and six digs for the Centaurs while Reegan Reynolds and Morgan Bonin had three each.

Bonin and Sophie Gronski (12 assists) each had 10 digs.

It finished up a season that started extremely well, got a little wobbly in the middle, but finished up on a high note.

The Centaurs won eight of their first nine matches.

“I keep saying, ’We’re young.’ We have some good seniors but we’re really a young team and for a team that only had five wins last year to turn around and make the semifinals in the States this year is huge growth in a very short amount of time which is nice to see. I was very happy with the season,” Adam Bottone said.

The up-and-down play that occurred in the middle of the season could easily be attributed to a rash of injuries and illness. Instead of Covid this year, concussions were the largest trouble.

“It means you are mixing the lineup and then, the girls get healthy and the lineup changes again and leaves uncertainty. Then, we had an injury at the end of the season where our Libero (Ellie Nunes) is gone and we’re playing without a Libero or a Libero half the time. Even though it was a struggle at times, I thought the girls did really well responding to those changes,” Adam Bottone said.

There were a couple of factors working in the Woodstock Academy coach’s favor.

He had a team that probably had the more depth and versatility than most of his past teams.

The excellent season this year portends well for the future.

The Centaurs lose only four seniors, Bonin, Leila MacKinnon, Jade Desmond and Nunes to graduation.

“I have a lot of pieces coming back,” Adam Bottone said with a smile. “Obviously, Liliana and Sophie will be a big part of that; Cassidy Ladd is going to continue to improve. Reegan will be back. Mia Sorrentino will be a threat on the outside, too, so we definitely have a lot of pieces in place.”

The biggest concern for the Centaurs will be replacing the middle hitter position which was occupied by MacKinnon and Bonin this season.

“I think we will have girls playing club (in the offseason) and if that happens, it will be good. If the CIAC allows us to do some coaching in the summer - I’m crossing my fingers that will happen – it will help establish and build the basics we need to move forward,” Adam Bottone said.