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Woodstock Academy libero Marissa Mayhew gets ready to serve against Guilford in last week’s Class L state volleyball semifinal. Photo by Marc Allard.

stumbles in state
It’s never easy to make the state championship match once. Imagine trying to do so three times in a row.
It’s what the Woodstock Academy volleyball team was attempting last week, but fell short this time.
The eighth-seeded Centaurs were downed in the Class L volleyball state tournament semifinals by No. 5 Guilford, 3-2, at Fitch High School.
Woodstock Academy finished its season with a 19-6 record.
 “We could have played better than what we did for sure,” said coach Adam Bottone. “Our passing was OK. It’s been better. It’s been worse, but we struggled with setting. We just couldn’t develop any consistency. It was my fear. That we would be on this big high after beating (top-seeded) Bristol Eastern. We didn’t lay an egg, but we struggled to keep the intensity up. We made a lot of unforced errors.”
Guilford put the Centaurs on notice early when it captured the first set.
The score was tied at 22 when junior middle hitter Emily Brouder got the ball back for the Indians with one of her four blocks.
Emma Appleman (25 kills) gave Guilford set point with a nice spike and, after a service error, Appleman delivered again with a kill for the 25-23 victory.
Bottone has been a tinkerer all season. In the second set, he installed sophomore Annarose Avery in as setter.
“With this team, we’ve done that a lot and it’s nothing new to them. We can make adjustments. We’ve been working on (Avery) setting in practice a lot. The tinkering is not a big deal. I don’t think it had a big impact on the result of the game,” Bottone said.
Avery had seven assists in the second set.
“It was really hard,” senior Paula Hernandez said of the setter switch, “but I think Annarose did the best she could in the situation. That was her first varsity game and she did a very good job.”
As the set improved, so did the service game.
“Our serving put us on the map. We had a lot of tough serves and (Guilford) struggled with that. We kept a lot of them in,” Bottone said.
Avery (9 service points) helped in that regard as well; she had a run of three service points as did Aurissa Boardman.
Still, the set was close at the end.
A one-hand return by Hernandez (31 kills) fell to the floor and gave the Centaurs a little breathing room, 23-21. The Indians were then called for an illegal return to give the Centaurs set point which came from Amelia Large who slapped the ball down hard from her middle hitter position for the 25-21 win.
Woodstock Academy was dominant in the third set.
It broke out to a 7-2 lead, saw Guilford rally to close within two, but went on another five-point run again powered by Avery’s service to take the 13-6 lead.
That lead just continued to expand and a Hernandez kill off an Avery (26 assists) feed gave the Centaurs the 25-14 victory and a 2-1 lead.
Woodstock Academy needed to win just one of the last two sets to advance to the state title match against Avon.
Bottone said the defense broke down.
Hernandez agreed adding that Guilford was able to target the Centaurs’ Achilles’ heel this season, the back row, and that the team was late to react on volleys.
The Centaurs owned an 8-7 lead in the fourth set when things began to go awry.
Two balls went out on unforced errors and another into the net and Guilford was suddenly on top, 10-8.
The Indians expanded the slim lead to seven, 18-11, only to see the Centaurs rally to get within range at 20-16.
Two Appleman kills and an ace by the junior and an illegal hit by Woodstock Academy gave Guilford set point at 24-16.
The Centaurs did score four points but ran out of steam and lost, 25-20, to set up the fifth and decisive set.
The Indians again jumped out early and held a 6-2 lead.
An ace by Hernandez – who had just two aces and seven service points as she was bothered by a finger she injured in the Bristol Eastern match – and a kill by the senior got Woodstock Academy back within two.
But the Centaurs never could establish momentum. The closest they could come was one point, 11-10.
But Guilford got a block from Olivia Ciocca and an ace from Eva Ott Hill to go up, 13-10, in the 15-point set.
Brouder went a little long on a kill attempt to give the Centaurs hope but that was squashed when Appleman delivered the final two decisive kills.
Hernandez finished with 36 digs in the match while Marissa Mayhew added 38 digs and 12 service points.
Boardman contributed nine kills and 11 service points.
The match marked the final game in a Centaurs uniform for Hernandez, the reigning Connecticut High School Coaches Association Player of the Year. 
She has been nominated for the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year this season.
She finished with “crazy” career numbers, according to Bottone, who has consistently said she is a once-in-a-lifetime player for a coach. Hernandez finished with 1,288 career kills (500 this year alone), 1,204 digs and 190 aces.
“I think what I will miss about her most is how she was able to make the rest of the team better. Watching her in practice and in games and seeing her understand the sport. That’s going to be the big difference. I’m not going to get anybody who gets the hits like she has had, but hopefully, we can learn by what we saw from her on the court and it will mean good results in the future for the girls,” Bottone said.
In addition, she led the Centaurs to the two state championships and the semifinals in her three seasons since coming to Connecticut from Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“It’s been really fun here and really different from Puerto Rico. I would say that I played much more passionately because it’s a completely different environment and I loved it. Hopefully, I will be back in the future,” Hernandez said.
She said, despite not making the title game, this may have well been her most memorable year. “I’m going to remember this season more because of all the struggles we had and all the effort we put into each other into getting better, not necessarily in volleyball, but as people. This season has been very different from the ones in the past. It’s been a lot of mental work,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez is still undecided about her future educational plans.
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy


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