The Champlain Valley Union boys volleyball team has faced plenty of adversity this season.
So why not deal with a little more just before the start of the Division I state championship match?
“We had a player get hurt two days ago, we had a starter go down in warm-ups,” said CVU coach Jeff Boliba. “The boys persevered, they played amazing. They showed really good grit.”
The Redhawks dealt with the loss of starter Will Burroughs after he hurt his ankle in warm-ups – plus the absence of Storm Rushford, the team’s emotional core, who is battling cancer – and fell behind in a decisive fifth set in Saturday’s title game.
“This has been one of the most challenging seasons, just the emotional stuff,” Boliba said. “We had to change quite a bit, we are very adaptable.”
But CVU handled it like they have all season, taking the challenges in stride and topping Essex to win their second straight D-I state championship.
“We work hard on our team culture and being one,” Boliba said. “Our whole mantra this year was #stormstrong and we got this one for Storm.
“I could not be more proud of these boys.”
A quick start by No. 2 Essex had the Redhawks back on their heels, as CVU adjusted to the absence of Burroughs and the Hornets emerged with the 26-24 win to take the early lead.
The top-seeded Redhawks rebounded in the second set, earning a narrow 27-25 victory, then pulled ahead in the third with another tight win, 25-23.
“We worked together and we worked hard,” said CVU sophomore Baker Angstmann. “We were thinking of our friend Storm and we just had to stay focused.”
The Hornets forced a decisive final set with a 25-16 win in the fourth, setting up a final tie-breaking game in the raucous gym at Saint Michael’s College.
Essex jumped out to the early lead in the fifth, pulling away for a 10-6 lead midway through the set. But the Redhawks dug deep and pulled back in it, winning six straight points to take a lead and then outscored the Hornets 5-2 in the final few points to secure the 15-12 victory in the final set.
“We talked about how hard we have worked since August (in the timeout),” Boliba said. “We said we’ve got to get this point and we’ll take it from there.”
The win caps off an undefeated season for CVU and their second straight title.