ROCKY HILL - Wethersfield and Rocky Hill have an athletic rivalry that dates back decades.
Debbie O’Brien, who has been the head coach of girls volleyball at Wethersfield since 1994, has been on both the winning and losing side of the border battle several times.
O’Brien and her Eagles were victorious in the latest chapter of the rivalry last Wednesday night, upending the upstart Terriers in four sets (25-14, 25-21, 19-25, 25-12) at Rocky Hill High School.
It was the team’s third win in its last five matches, after losing the first four contests to start the season.
“I think we’re building confidence as we go,” O’Brien said about the team’s sudden turnaround. “The skills are there, but it’s nice to see the confidence of the team is growing. Even within a match, we may start slow, but our confidence helps us pick up our play.”
The Eagle spikers didn’t have any confidence issues in the road victory over Rocky Hill, winning the first set with relative ease.
Kathleen Kerekes shined from the opening serve and had a stretch of three-straight service winners, including two aces. The lefty junior helped put the Eagles up 8-5, a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the opening set.
Christina Faienza set the tone for Wethersfield in the second frame when she spiked the ball into the middle of Rocky Hill’s defensive alignment for the opening point. She then ended the set with another kill, after Rocky Hill had battled back and threatened to steal the set.
Faienza and her twin sister, Rosmarie Faienza, are seniors and have been the tone-setters for the Eagles this season.
“Christina is a strong hitter, our strongest hitter. She’s had a lot of experience playing middle hitter and that has helped,” said O’Brien. “She is also aggressive and has that fire in her eyes. She wants to win and has that killer instinct.”
“Rose is our quarterback, so to speak. She’s our setter and involved in every play,” O’Brien stated. “She hustles down every ball and makes good choices as far as who to go to and who are the best options for our offense.”
The Faienza twins teamed up to polish off the match in the fourth set. Rosmarie set up Christina, who spiked the ball for the first point of the final set. Christina then ended the match with two straight aces. Rosemarie added a pair of aces and a kill in the final frame.
“They are both good leaders and the fact that they’re twins helps the connection between the two of them. They know exactly what the other one is going to do,” added O’Brien. “Regardless they would both be strong, but that’s an added bonus.”
The twins not only have telepathy between them, but they also have senior help on the court in Aleysia Green, Anna Mayo and Gabrielle Bielak. All three contributed in the victory, but Bielak is the engine that keeps the machine running and kept several points alive with a handful of digs.
“Gabrielle is versatile because she can play every position. She played setter her sophomore year and then she was a hitter last year. We needed her to play libero this year and she’s done it so well,” O’Brien said. “She’s a leader out on the floor and is a key player for both offense and defense. She’s smart and knows the court, which helps with strategy and communicating with the other players. She’s really important to our team.”
The Eagles are in the midst of a seven game road trip, but they’ll return to WHS for a seven-game home-stand starting next Wednesday, Oct. 14, against New Britain.
“There are a couple of teams that we’ve played on the road that we’ll have a chance to play at home. We felt like we let a couple of those games slip away, so going back home should help,” said O’Brien, who also coaches the boy’s team at Wethersfield. “Also, playing away can make a team tired. We’ve had a lot of late nights, so playing at home and our crowd support should help our energy.”
The loss was the Terriers sixth of the season. Coming into the contest the team had won two of three after losing four straight to start the season.
“This is the second year in a row that we’ve been very, very young. We’re in the second year of a significant rebuild after graduating a lot of players two years ago,” said Rocky Hill head coach Scott Ferguson. “Every junior and sophomore that we have on the team played on varsity as freshmen and sophomores last year.”
The young squad only has two seniors on the roster this season in Julie Slavin and Caitlin Perkins.
“Our players did get a lot of experience last year, but it’s still just a matter of putting all of the pieces together and figuring out the process.” added Ferguson, who is in his fourth year coaching the team.
Rocky Hill showed signs of that promise throughout the match and excelled in the third set when took the lead early and pulled away thanks to the efforts of Grace Fisher. The sophomore put her skills on display during the set when she delivered back-to-back exceptional plays early in the set, registering a kill and following it up with a perfectly placed ace on the ensuring serve, giving the Terriers a 21-15 advantage. Fisher concluded the set with another ace.
“I think Grace is going to be an all-state level player,” Ferguson stated. “She’s young, so she gets little down on herself. One of the things we’re working on is making sure that it doesn’t take her out of the game, because she’s outstanding when she’s on.”
Fellow sophomore Nicole Chamberland also had a pair of aces and junior Gina Genovese added two kills during Rocky Hill’s winning set.
Ferguson’s team has a chance to get back on track when they travel to Berlin Friday for a date with the Redcoats. The coach said the goal for the remainder of the season is to keep developing chemistry on the court.
“We’re going to keep working on putting all of the pieces together. One of the things that I liked about tonight is that we did a lot of the little things that we have been talking about in practice. Like calling out our setter and hitter as well as figuring out where they need to transition to on defense,” Ferguson added. “We’re not a polished product yet and we’ll have to keep working on it, but it’s starting to happen on a more regular basis.”