close
close

Daily Hampshire Gazette – Boys volleyball, Class C: Top-seeded Granby sweeps Ware to claim first WMass title (PHOTOS)

0

CHICOPEE – In the third set of the Western Massachusetts Class C championship game against No. 2 Ware on Saturday, all the momentum was against the No. 1 Granby boys volleyball team.

The Rams had won the first two sets easily, but they were down 24-21 in the third – and Ware's fans were delighted. For a team made up of underclassmen, it would have been no surprise if they had given up and focused on the fourth set.

But Granby got ready when sophomore Jake Gagnon stepped behind the service line.

His rocket-like serve helped the Rams to the next three points and tie the score at 24-24. And after the next five points were played out 3-2 in Granby's favor, the top-ranked team found itself at championship point.

Granby forced Ware into a free kick that was fired into Braedan Gallagher's lap. The sophomore slid it to classmate Gagnon, who perfectly sent senior captain Michael Swanigan to the wing.

With a quick move, he leapt up to meet the ball at its highest point and slammed hard into Ware's front line. The ball hit two hands on the other side of the net and fell to the court. Swanigan has over 700 kills in his career, but none bigger than this one — giving Granby a 3-0 victory (25-19, 25-16, 28-26) and its first Western Mass. title in just its third year as a program.

“It means a lot to us to have accomplished this so early in the history of the program,” Swanigan said. “We worked hard for it because we couldn't play indoors because of Covid, so we've been sitting on the beach courts ever since and just looking forward to it. Every year we've gotten a little closer to that goal and today we've accomplished it.”

Gagnon's outstanding serve (six aces) helped the Rams surge in the third set, and Ware couldn't quite break his serve all morning.

“After I got a couple of serves through and we made a couple of points, the gap started to close and I think we definitely knew we had a good chance to win,” he said. “We finished the third set pretty strong.”

His teammates admitted that they had some doubts about a comeback after three consecutive set points and were even thinking about a possible fourth set.

But then it was No. 7's turn to serve and everything changed.

“I wouldn't have minded a fourth set and there were some doubts given the point difference, but once Jake was on the service line I had no doubt he would take control,” Swanigan said.

Even when Gagnon didn't hit an ace, he put Ware in a difficult position to set up his offense. Throughout the season, Granby knew that serving had to be his strength. No one on the roster is particularly tall, so their small size wouldn't matter if they could strategically pressure teams with their serving.

That plan was fully implemented on Saturday with a total of 11 aces and several other serves that never made it back over the net.

“Serving has been a focus all year,” Rams head coach Chad Gagnon said. “We have a small team, so we have to serve hard to keep other teams out of the system. If we keep them out of the system, they don't have their main attack to kill us through our blocks. If we keep them out of the system, we can keep attacking.”

Swanigan had 16 kills and six assists, the most of the match. Gagnon was all-around talent, posting 10 kills, 18 assists, six aces and four digs, while Gallagher added six kills.

The three have led Granby all year long, and that's to be expected considering they play year-round outside of the high school spring season.

Coming into the year, the Rams didn't sugarcoat their goals. They knew right away that winning the Class C crown wasn't a goal, but an expectation.

And this expectation became reality on Saturday.

“Honestly, that was our goal from the beginning,” Chad Gagnon said. “We knew we had a super strong team. Having three guys that play all year is a huge advantage. The goal all year was to win this and see how far we could go in the state tournament.”

The first two sets were almost identical copies of each other, both ending in a 14-14 tie at times. A 7-2 run in the first and a 9-1 run in the second gave the eventual champions enough of a lead to easily win.

Granby carried that momentum into the third, starting with a 6-1 run (led by two aces from Gagnon), but Ware didn't give up so easily and eventually built the aforementioned 24-21 lead, which the Rams then recovered to win the championship.

Despite the departure of Swanigan and teammate Nico Grandmont, Granby still has a wealth of younger players who have at least two years left on the roster.

The Rams don't plan on creating a one-and-done story. This program isn't going away anytime soon.

“The reality is my libero is in eighth grade, one of my first-year starters, and I have four sophomores. I only have two fourth-year starters and none third-year starters,” Chad Gagnon said. “These guys are young, but they play a lot and they play with passion. They put more effort into practice than I can imagine. These guys are 100 percent committed to the program.”

Seedings for the MIAA state tournament will be announced Tuesday as the Rams look to continue their spring campaign well into June.