CHITTENANGO — The New Hartford girls volleyball team wasn’t about to let the perfect ending to a perfect season slip away.
Just a few points from the program’s first-ever sectional title and only undefeated season, New Hartford stumbled a bit.
However, the Spartans steadied themselves by showing their championship mettle in closing out a 3-1 victory (25-18, 19-25, 25-14, 25-20) over Carthage to claim the Section 3 Class A title Saturday evening at Chittenango High School.
“It can’t get any better, really,” said senior hitter Chloe Elsenbeck, who had 11 big kills and eight digs for the Spartans. “We did a great job playing as a team. Even when we lose a set we have come back stronger all season.”
It was a total team effort for the Spartans (19-0), who received 15 kills, four aces and four blocks from senior Madison Desmarais and 35 assists and 16 blocks from junior setter Marie Winn.
Shaye Gardinier (15 digs), Kira Corasanti (5 kills, 4 digs), Chloe Kem (6 digs), Ku Ku (4 aces and 6 digs), Kianna Kennedy (8 digs) and Belle Vitagliano (3 blocks) also made major contributions Saturday.
“This is the best,” said New Hartford head coach Bill Gardinier said. “I’ve had all the seniors since seventh grade from modified all the way to varsity. That makes it special, plus having my daughter on the team … it’s incredible.”
“We’ve struggled with serve receiving all year, but after watching (Carthage) Thursday, I thought we could handle their serve,” Gardinier said. “And I knew that they’d have trouble handling Madison and Chloe, and that’s what happened.”
The Spartans have gotten off to slow starts against good teams — dropping the first set four times — including during Thursday’s come-from-behind semifinal win over East Syracuse-Minoa.
That was not the case Saturday as the Spartans came out of the gates with tremendous energy and were precise in their movements and passing in jumping out to an early 11-2 advantage.
Carthage (10-3) clawed back with a 6-0 run, but got no closer than 12-8. Leading 16-11, Desmarais had a dominant flurry of points, recording three kills and a block that put the Spartans up 20-11.
“(New Hartford) definitely has strong hitters and servers across the board,” said Carthage head coach Angela Robbins, who led the Comets to three consecutive titles from 2015-17. “We didn’t pass as well as we normally do, but that happens.
“This is a young team and we don’t have anybody who’s ever been to the finals. I think that’s a little bit of what went on. But that’s taking nothing away from New Hartford because they played extremely well all the way around in everything that they did.”
New Hartford closed out the first set on a great effort play by Gardinier, who chased down a ball near her bench that led to Belle Vitagliano’s set-closing block.
“Communication was the big thing today,” said Winn, who distributed nice short and long sets to her hitters. “We did a good job today of coming together when it got tense out there. That was the difference. I’m beyond proud.”
Once again, the Comets fell behind early in the second set before they started to find some rhythm. They took their first lead of the match at 11-10 of the second set on a kill by Caroline Culbreth. After the Spartans won the next point, the Comets won the next five points and nine of the next 11 behind great hitting by Rebekka Fifield and Mikenzie Martens.
The Spartans fought back to close to within 22-19, but a kill by Fifield and two errors by the Spartans knotted the match.
New Hartford didn’t let the poor set leak into the third as the top-seed dominated behind great hitting by Elsenbeck, who had several thunderous kills in the set.
The senior also closed out the 25-14 set with a cross-court kill off nice passes from Corasanti and Winn that pulled the Spartans to within one set of their goal.
“I was kind of spazzing out for a while, but I knew I had to put it to the floor,” Elsenbeck said. “Finding and putting it in the holes is a key component of the game, because you can’t just smack it, because they’ll dig it up.”
The title looked like a sure thing as the Spartans built an early 12-4 advantage in taking advantage of some sloppy passing and movement from Carthage.
The Spartans still led 14-7 before the Comets made one final push that would test New Hartford’s resolve. Three kills by Fifield and some poor passing and communication led to a quick 7-0 run that tied the set.
“They called the time out and I thought they were close to quitting if we just didn’t come out and play tight,” Gardinier said. “But that’s just what we started doing. We were trying not to hit it out instead of just hitting it, and our passes weren’t that good during that stretch and it got closer.”
New Hartford won the next two points on finishes by Elsenbeck, but Fifield answered with consecutive kills to even things at 16 apiece. Desmarais followed with a huge smash that caught the line, before the Comets’ Julia Fox tied things for the final time with a big kill.
After a service error gave by Carthage, New Hartford sophomore Ku Ku won four straight service points to make it 22-17. A kill by Elsenbeck and an error by the Comets moved the Spartans to championship point at 24-18.
Ku Ku came up huge with eight service points during the decisive set.
“She struggled a little bit on the court, but she served really well for us and got some huge points,” Gardinier said. “She doesn’t serve hard, and their middle was wide open, and that’s where they fell.”
Carthage won the next two points, before a service error sent the Spartans onto the court in celebration of their first-ever volleyball championship.
“It feels great,” Desmarais said. “I’m really proud of this team and everything we’ve accomplished during the season. We just had to know as long as we kept our cool, we knew we could do it. When (coach) called the timeout we knew if we stayed focused we could do it … and we did.”
Section 3, Class A Championship
New Hartford 3, Carthage 1
Set Scores: 25-18; 19-25; 25-14, 25-20.
Carthage (10-3): Mikenzie Martens 7 kills, 21 assists; Laura Albright 2 aces, 2 blocks, 11 digs; Rebekka Fifield 15 kills, 2 blocks, 12 digs; Liya Mace 15 assists, 5 digs; Julia Fox 8 kills, 14 digs; Ciera Lawrence 8 kills; Caroline Culbreth 3 kills, 2 blocks.
New Hartford (19-0): Shaye Gardinier 15 digs; Madison Desmarais 15 kills, 4 aces, 4 blocks, 2 digs; Chloe Kem 6 digs; Ku Ku 4 aces, 2 kills, 6 digs; Kianna Kennedy 8 digs; Belle Vitagliano 3 blocks, 1 kill; Marie Winn 35 assists, 16 digs, 1 block; Chloe Elsenbeck 11 kills, 8 digs, 1 ace; Kira Corasanti 5 kills, 2 blocks, 4 digs.
New Hartford Spartans Roster: Kira Corasanti, Madison Desmarais, Chloe Elsenbeck, Nicole Farkouh, Shaye Gardinier, Chloe Kem, Kianna Kennedy, Ku Ku, Belle Vitagliano, Brianna Wheelock, Marie Winn.
Coaches: Bill Gardinier, Tim Abraham, Jen Dodge.
Last 10 Class A Winter Volleyball Champions
2018-19: New Hartford
Nick Sardina is a writer for midyorksportsreport.com. Follow Nick onTwitter @nsardinamysr or on Facebook. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org