Naugatuck knocks off Seymour to win NVL

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WATERBURY — The reaction was simple and chaotic.

“Insane — that’s the only word to describe it,” Naugatuck’s Brielle Behuniak said just moments after she pounded a championship-winning kill to upset undefeated Seymour.

Behuniak and the second-seeded Greyhounds won the program’s first Naugatuck Valley League title in 21 years by knocking off top-seeded Seymour, 3-2 (25-20, 12-25, 25-18, 13-25, 15-13), last Wednesday at Kennedy High.

A match that was mostly drama-free for the first four games came down to the final few points. Seymour All-State hitter Faith Rousseau, who finished with a match-high 29 kills, rotated back to the front row near the end of the final game and helped the ‘Cats snag a 12-11 lead.

But instead of allowing Rousseau to lift Seymour (21-1) to an expected crown, Naugatuck (21-2) stood tall at net. At 13-all, Naugy’s Hailey Russell leaped to deflect a spike by Rousseau, allowing Kaylee Jackson (nine kills) to register a kill and set up match point.

“I was just thinking about getting it up,” Russell said of the deflection. “I wasn’t worried about where it was going or trying to get a perfect pass. I was just like, get it up so someone else can get it.”

Russell then took the ball with a chance to serve up Naugatuck’s first NVL title since 1998.

“In my head I was like, you’ve got this,” Russell said. “I had confidence in everyone else on the court.”

Seymour failed to mount an attack off the serve reception, allowing Russell to set up Behuniak for a thunderous kill to the back corner of the Wildcats’ floor.

“It didn’t matter where I put it — I just wanted to get it down,” Behuniak said. “The (blocker) was actually blocking my view, so I was looking over to see if it was in or not. When the line judge called it in, I went nuts.”

It triggered a mad rush onto the floor — one in which libero Jordyn Hunt was thrilled to find herself.

“It was crazy, but also so rewarding,” Hunt said. “Seeing everyone swarm the court and hug us and cheer for us and be so excited was awesome.”

The same feeling overcame longtime coach Kevin Wesche, whose team swept third-seeded Woodland in the semifinal last Monday.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Wesche said. “I feel so happy for these young ladies because they’ve worked so hard. It’s a phenomenal group of kids who have great leadership skills, are so coachable, and you’re able to have fun with them. We’re not just working hard — we’re having a lot of fun, too.”

Behuniak finished with 10 kills and 11 assists, while Russell tallied four kills, five aces and 12 assists. Hunt made 22 key digs in helping the Greyhounds’ defense navigate Seymour’s formidable attack.

“It was just about having each other’s backs and covering everything, not letting anything hit the ground,” Hunt said. “We wanted to keep the energy up so nobody got down.”

“We got a few tips on (Seymour attack attempts) late that prevented them from hitting the hardwood,” Wesche said. “We were able to bring it up and go on the attack, and that made a big difference.”

For Wesche, this long-awaited championship was one that he considered possible when this year’s senior group was just getting started with the varsity program.

“I told my athletic director (Brian Mariano) three years ago that if we had a shot at (winning the NVL title), it would be with this group of seniors,” Wesche recalled, “because of the athleticism, the commitment, the skills, the heart and hustle, the fire and desire to win. When they were freshmen, you could see they were something special. As sophomores, you knew they had it.”

The ‘Hounds hope that their championship road has a few more stops for their passionate fan base. They earned the No. 4 seed in the Class L state tournament and earned a bye. They will host a second-round match Thursday at 6 p.m.

“It just shows how supportive of a town we have and how many people we have surrounding us who have our backs,” Russell said of the packed Naugatuck fan section during the NVL final. “It gave us a lot of confidence.”

Woodland earned the No. 5 seed in Class M. The Hawks earned a bye and will host a second-round match Wednesday.