On a sunny day at the gym, NFA boys volleyball continues to impress

NFAs Gage Hinkley (11) and Gavin Hecker (9) try to block a shot by Norwich Tech’s Cameron Maskaly (21) during a boys volleyball match at the school in Norwich, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Photo Reprints
NFAs Gavin Hecker (9), Gage Hinkley (11) and Landon Little (2) celebrate a point during a boys volleyball match at the school in Norwich, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
Norwich Tech’s Mason Matthews (12) and Cameron Maskaly (21) celebrate a point with teammates during a boys’ volleyball match at the school in Norwich, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints
NFA’s Keegan Johnston (3) taps a ball over the net during a boys’ volleyball match at the school in Norwich, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Sarah Gordon/The Day) Buy photo reprints

Norwich – Gage Hinkley is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound middle linebacker who will leave to play Division I football at the University of Rhode Island on June 24, just after graduating from Norwich Free Academy. The versatile Hinkley also played quarterback at NFA.

To find Hinkley on Tuesday, despite temperatures hovering in the mid-70s, you had to look inside the NFA Alumni Gymnasium, where the Wildcats faced Norwich Tech in boys volleyball.

NFA, which has won nine straight matches this season and is 13-3 overall, won 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 and got 12 kills, four blocks and three digs from Hinkley, with several of his kills came into Game 3. , in which the Wildcats fell behind.

”I just trained for football. I never played another sport until my freshman year,” Hinkley said. “It’s obviously not a super popular sport for men, but it’s one of the most competitive games I’ve played. When you get into a really tight game, there is nothing more exciting than getting a big kill or a big serve.”

Hinkley first started playing volleyball because of fellow NFA senior Dean Bonnin, a middle hitter. Bonnin, whose friend had a court at his home, introduced Hinkley to beach volleyball.

“So we always played sand volleyball,” Hinkley said. “I thought, ‘Man, I think I’m going to like this.’ I found out the school had a team, that was my junior and senior year, I just wanted to play a different sport.

NFA, with several of the school’s talented athletes joining the team last season – including 6-foot-4 basketball player Greg Keith – finished 14-8 with berths in the Connecticut Volleyball League and Class L state tournaments. Then-senior setter Paul Ericson finished with 385 assists, following his two older sisters, both former NFA all-state picks, into the sport.

What the players discovered is that there is a lot more strategy involved than ripping the ball across the net, although Hinkley admits this is his favorite part.

“I love coaching the boys,” said NFA coach Raleighe Orszulak-Borecki, in her second season with the Wildcats boys team and now also coaching the NFA girls.

“They are very competitive. They want to work hard. They are very good at being strategic. They love the game of it. In volleyball there are so many different ways you can attack, so I try to teach them that big swings are great, but if you don’t have a perfect set or maybe you can see that the other team is covering, you have to do different things to attempt. ”

Tyler McDermott added seven kills, six blocks and seven digs for NFA, which also played Monday and lost 3-0 to South Windsor. Landon Little had 23 assists.

Bradley Mortell finished with eight kills, two aces and five digs and Emerson Avery 10 digs, two kills, one block and three assists for Norwich Tech (7-7).

Norwich Tech has only had the sport for a handful of years and longtime girls coach Tim Krodel is also calling the shots there. He said the Warriors had just seven players in their first year of participation, all of whom competed in the varsity and junior varsity matches.

Tuesday featured a full JV game before the varsity players took the field.

In the main event, Norwich Tech led the third game against NFA 16-14 before Orzulak-Borecki called a timeout and the Wildcats responded.

Still trailing 18-16, the NFA got back-to-back kills from Hinkley to tie the game. The Wildcats finally tied the match at 20-20 when a Mason Stolhammer serve was left untouched on the left sideline for an ace.

Gavin Hecker scored match point for NFA with a block.

“They have great hitters, great setters,” Krodel said of NFA. “We had to play almost perfect. You can’t give away points and you can’t give them anything soft because they just take it and hit it back at you.”

Norwich Tech needs one more win to qualify for the league and state tournaments.

NFA, meanwhile, is generating a strong following among the student body, with a crowd recently donating more than $2,000 to a Cycle for Survival fundraiser.

“There’s a lot more skill,” NFA’s McDermott said. “It just comes down to how you play consistently in the game and that’s what really matters. This is how you win matches.

“I think we want to try as many people as possible. The more people we have, the more talent we can see and the better we can go into the season. …I think what I’m really doing here is showing people how different the game is from what people really care about. It’s definitely growing.”

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