By JOSH KAUFMANN
COLCHESTER — Imposing as undefeated, No. 1 seed Essex’s size and athleticism were, what doomed Champlain Valley Union’s valiant and intense effort to win the rivals’ third straight finals meeting was the Hornets’ overwhelming depth.
The Redhawks had won the inaugural Vermont Principals Association girls volleyball tournament over Essex, and were looking to avenge the Hornets’ 2018 finals win over CVU. The second-seed Hawks got the start they were hoping for, but four straight points to start the championship doubleheader at Ross Sports Center didn’t make Essex blink.
“I told them not to worry if they’re down early. Just keep fighting,” Essex coach Jen Ligouri said. ”And we did that.”
CVU’s only loss in a 13-1 regular season was a 3-1 decision at home to Essex on Oct. 11. The hot start only helped keep things close in the first set, a 25-20 Hornet win that was followed by 25-14 and 25-17 Essex victories for the title.
“We basically play our game,” Ligouri added. “We didn’t pay attention to what their score is. Just play our game, play volleyball. And that’s what they did. They were just focusing on playing our game.”
The Redhawks’ top blockers held their own against Essex’s imposing senior Madeline Folsom and freshman Jazmin Munson. But the Hornets also had Jessica Rose, Rachel Yandow, Amanda Lyon, Elizabeth Goodrich, and Grace Asoera popping up everywhere CVU tried to attack, and by early in the second set the Hawks were just trying to keep the ball in play.
They did a really good job establishing their block, and that was really hard to get around,” CVU coach Jeanne Nauheimer said. “It’s a really good block. They just played really well.”
After Yandow’s clutch serving wiped out the early deficit, emphatic kills by Folsom and Munson got Essex to 23-17 in the first set, before Asoera and Munson went high to force a shot wide for the win.
Essex got more championship-level serving in the second set, turning aside a CVU rally from its own quick 10-2 hole. Rose, a sophomore, racked up six straight points to make it 17-11. Asoera, one of six seniors, launched a 5-1 Essex run for a 22-12 lead, and moments later Munson slammed down a block to finish off the second set.
“Our girls were there fighting tooth and nail. I think there were a couple of unfortunate moments when we couldn’t get a point and get the serve back,” added Nauheimer.
In the third set the Hornets raced to an 8-2 lead and went up by as much as 11 before the Hawks closed slightly, and Essex sealed the victory on Kayla Boutin’s serve to finish off a perfect 17-0 season.
Liguori was particularly pleased that everyone on the roster got into the act in the third set without the team missing a beat.
“Every single Hornet on the roster played top quality volleyball,” she said. “My girls played very well and I’m incredibly proud of all of them. I was very happy that I played every player on my roster in the championship match. It was such a great experience for everyone.”
The Hornets lost just two sets this fall, one of them to the Redhawks three weeks earlier. CVU finishes 14-2, undefeated against the rest of the state. It was the third Essex-CVU finals matchup in as many years of the sports’ varsity status. CVU took the 2017 title 3-2, and Essex won 3-1 a year ago.
“Jessie Rose was crushing the ball into CVU’s defensive players all day,” Liguori said.
Rose racked up eight kills, Munson added four and seven stuff blocks, and Folsom served a team-high four aces along with four kills.