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BOYS VOLLEYBALL NOTES Fearless Falcons are soaring at 9-1

April 19, 2019

The motto on the back of the warm-up shirts of the Joel Barlow High School boys volleyball team is simple and direct.

“Respect All. Fear None.”

Well, the Falcons have been fearless so far this season. They are 9-1 overall after Thursday’s 3-2 home victory over Danbury and are the proud owners of a seven-match win streak.

Joel Barlow is certainly a boys volleyball program with pedigree. The Falcons were South-West Conference (SWC) champions in 2016 and ’17 before losing in the 2018 league tourney final to Newtown High.

They were also Class M runners-up in 2015, ’16 and ’18.

It appeared on paper that this might be the year opponents get even with Joel Barlow. The Falcons graduated seven seniors from 2018 and had just two seniors on the 2019 roster.

However, Joel Barlow has met nearly every challenge this season. Its lone loss (3-0) was to Newtown on April 3.

“We’re in a good place,” Barlow senior co-captain Thomas Lucido said. “But we understand there is lots of room for improvement. Room for our young group to develop and grow.”

The work of Lucido and fellow senior co-captain Finn McCaffrey are key reasons for the Falcons’ success.

They are the two top hitters on the team. However, the pair’s biggest value is as leaders.

“Having great leadership is so important,” said Joel Barlow’s 10th-year coach Chris Lovelett. “Finn and Thomas are great examples for our younger kids. And they step up in big moments in every match.”

The 6-foot-2 McCaffrey, who has signed to play college volleyball at Endicott College in Massachusetts in the fall, has the versatility and athleticism to strike kills from both the front and back rows.

“Finn is talented and athletic. He is also teaching and talking to everyone in every single game,” Lovelett said. “He’s another coach on the court. His ability to attack sets from the back row allows us to create many in-system plays.”

Despite its overall youth (one freshman, five sophomores, four juniors), Barlow plays a fundamentally sound game with efficient serving.

To their credit, the Falcons use the past five years of success as motivation, as opposed to a burden to live up to.

“There is SWC and state tournament history to live up to,” McCaffrey said. “We don’t view it as pressure. It’s a standard to live up to and make us better.”

The seeds for Joel Barlow’s promising start in 2019 were sown in the winter.

Most of the Falcons’ varsity roster were playing at the Mizuno East Volleyball Club. Mizuno East has two U18 squads, two U17 teams, two U16 rosters and one U15 group.

Lovelett is a coach and co-director. A number of current FCIAC boys volleyball players are also part of those teams.

“Playing on the winter club volleyball teams put us all on the same page, chemistry-wise,” McCaffrey said. “The work there was also helpful in everybody accepting their roles here.”

“The winter club volleyball helped us all develop,” Thomas Lucido said. “We were able to come together quickly. It’s a big reason for our fast start.”

What’s left is to see what the last nine regular-season matches and the postseason bring for the Falcons.

“Competition is the second piece of the puzzle,” Lovelett said. “I want the kids to enjoy the game and enjoy themselves amid the high expectations.”

TOP PERFORMERS

We are far enough into the 2019 season to tip our caps to the five unbeaten boys volleyball teams left in the CIAC.

Newtown High (9-0): The Nighthawks are the No. 1-ranked squad in Class L after last Thursday night’s 3-0 home win over Trumbull. They have beaten Joel Barlow, Darien and Danbury (twice) thus far.

Southington High (7-0): Southington is No. 2 in Class L after last Thursday night’s win at Enfield. Southington travels to defending Class M champ Newington on Thursday.

Staples High (7-0): The defending Class L champion Wreckers are No. 3 in Class L after last Thursday night’s triumph at Oxford.

Newington High (9-0): The defending Class M champ are again ranked No. 1 in Class M. Interesting week ahead.

Wethersfield High (7-0): Ranked No. 2 in Class M and trying to keep pace with Newington.

MATCHES TO WATCH

Farmington at Newington: Monday, April 22, 5 p.m.: Sole possession of first place in the CCC West Division to the victor. Farmington just suffered its first loss to Southington.

Ridgefield at Staples: Monday, April 22, 4 p.m.: Will be the second rematch of the combatants in last season’s FCIAC and Class L final — both won by Staples.

South Windsor at Wethersfield: Wednesday, April 24, 5 p.m.: South Windsor could forge a tie for first place in the CCC East Division with a victory.

New Canaan at Darien: Wednesday, April 24, 4 p.m.: The suburban archrivals could clash with both having spotless FCIAC records.

Daniel Hand at Newtown: Wednesday, April 24, 6 p.m.: Hand enters this clash with just one loss (to Joel Barlow).

rdepreta@stamfordadvocate.com